Wind Energy’s Positive Impact On Our Environment

The positive effect that wind turbines in the UK have had on our carbon emissions is greater than originally thought according the University of Edinburgh’s analysis of the National Grid latest figures. Although it has been known for some time that wind power has played a substantial part in cutting the UK’s carbon emissions by preventing the manufacture of 35 million tonnes of greenhouse gases from 2008 to 2014 the overall effect is now known to be greater.

The report by engineering researchers at the University and published this week in Energy Policy looked at power generation figures from various renewable and traditional sources from 2008 to 2014 with results showing wind farms to have made the greatest impact in limiting carbon emissions in relation to the other sources, in total saving the equivalent of 2.3 million less cars on the road over the same six year period.

The report also showed good timing being released the week after the UK wind industry set a new record for power output at 10,000MW last Thursday afternoon. That is 23% of the country’s entire electricity demand for that period.

The report authors speaking with Business Green claim that the Scottish and UK emission targets could be met with greater investment in wind energy generation.

“Until now, the impact of clean energy from wind farms was unclear,” said Dr Camilla Thomson, a carbon footprinting specialist from the University of Edinburgh, who led the study. “Our findings show that wind plays an effective role in curbing emissions that would otherwise be generated from conventional sources, and it has a key role to play in helping to meet Britain’s need for power in future.”

The most eye-catching part of the report however is the claim that government estimates have seriously underplayed the emissions reduction benefits of wind generated energy with an additional 3.4million tonnes of greenhouse gases saved.

The University claim that the report’s findings are the most accurate to date  as it uses real data as opposed to estimated output figures, take inefficiency into account,  and breaks down the output figures into 30minute blocks therefore showing a more accurate overall figure.

WWF Director Lang Banks speaking of the report said it clearly showed the significant positive impact wind power in particular and renewables in general has on the environment.

“It’s great to finally have an independent and authoritative study that puts a more accurate figure on the massive amounts of climate-damaging carbon emissions being avoided thanks to wind power,” he said in a statement. “The figures in the study highlight just one example of the many benefits that have come from shifting our electricity system to a clean renewable one.

“However, with electricity generation accounting for less than a quarter of our climate change emissions, it’s now time to begin to reap the same benefits by increasing the use of renewables in our heat and transport sectors,” Banks added, urging the Scottish government to increase its 2030 renewables target to 50 per cent of all energy.

The report comes at a time when, due to the removal of government subsidies, the UK wind industry is winding down. However with the capacity for many new installations throughout the land and the evidence of the positive impact such projects has on our emissions now is surely the time for the government to review its policies and put wind turbines back to the top of their agenda.

Clean air with vastly reduced carbon levels compared to where the currently stand is not only legally required, it is right of every person. Our government can therefore go a long way in securing a cleaner environment for all at a cost much lower than alternative options by altering their policies and in some way reintroducing a subsidy to the wind industry promoting the growth of these type of projects in suitable areas throughout the country leaving an energy legacy they can be proud of.

 

Time for a new renewables target?

As the end of the year approaches and thoughts turn to a new one we realise that we are one year closer to the Scottish Government’s ambitious target of generating 100% of our required energy from renewable sources by 2020. Then we also realise that achieving this is highly unlikely.

However despite the lofty ambitions unlikely to be met energy experts do believe that 50% of energy from renewable sources by 2030 with the correct plans and policies can be achieved.

A new report from WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and the RSPB Scotland based on analysis from technical company Ricardo Energy and Environment has outlined what will be required to reach this goal at a time when the Scottish Government is beginning to develop a new energy strategy which aims to included multi-party policy ideas including the 50% energy generation target.

The report however warns that the Scottish Government will have to incorporate a number of new measures designed to increase the uptake of renewables in order to reach this new lower target.

“Ministers should now make this a Scottish Government target and bring in the policies needed in its forthcoming energy strategy,” according to WWF Scotland director Lang Banks: “Scotland is already seeing the economic and social benefits of shifting our electricity system to clean, climate-friendly, renewables generation. However, with electricity accounting for just one quarter of our energy use, it’s time to begin to reap the same benefits by increasing the use of renewables in our heat and transport sectors.”

The overall 50% target was also promoted by Scottish Renewables in the 2016 manifesto and Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, feels that the 2030 target was a move in the right direction: “Scotland’s ambitious climate change and 2020 renewable energy targets have signalled a clear intent for the country to lead the way in the transition to a low-carbon economy – and driven tremendous growth in renewable electricity generation. However, it’s now time to lift our horizons and set an ambitious target to drive investment in renewable heat, power and transport through the 2020s.”

Heat and transport are likely to be the main factors in what we need to do for driving down our non-renewable energy usage whilst onshore wind generation is expected to provide the biggest chunk of renewable energy to grid. By 2016 onshore wind was the largest supplier of renewable energy to the grid in Scotland followed by hydro-power. In February of this year onshore wind provided 40% of the required electricity and in October WeatherEnergy reported the wind power had increased by a third from the previous year.

Also on numerous occasions throughout the last two years Scotland’s onshore wind turbines have provided 50% of the country’s electricity needs.

So while electricity generation at 50% from renewables is an attainable target heat generation poses far more problems. At present only 5% of Scotland’s heat energy is produced from renewable sources. As a result WWF have gone as far to state that a Warm Homes Act is required to ensure cleaner and more affordable heat.

Ricardo Energy and Environment calls for renewable heat generation to be increased to 40% by 2030 by fitting half of all residential properties with hybrid heat pumps as standard. However, the transition could be difficult for customers in terms of unfamiliarity, and it is necessary to therefore offer a large degree of official support alongside this type of roll-out.

Some progress has already been made with renewable heat generation increasing from 1.5% in 2014 to 5.3%. This was due to the non-domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI) which offers financial incentives for generating and using renewable energy to heat buildings.

This type of scheme could be expanded and also potentially include the heat pump installation making it attractive to all consumers.

Another issue is transport energy however the growing use of electric vehicles can means that renewable transport energy is on the increase. Ricardo Energy and Environment hopes that half of all buses and one in three cars will be powered by renewables by 2030. This would result in a 40% decrease in petrol and diesel usage.

The phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles in countries such as Norway and Denmark is seen as an excellent model for increasing renewable transport energy usage. This has been supported by the governments in both countries and would require similar legislation here.

Higher taxes on high emission vehicles is one such policy which has cited in assisting achieve this. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recently released their Draft Clean Air Zone Framework which calls for the introduction of Clean Air Zones across five cities in England.  Incentives in this Clean Zone framework, such as lower parking fees, access to bus lanes and priority at traffic lights, could be applied in cities around Scotland in order to encourage future purchases of low emission vehicles.

The target of 50% of all our energy requirements from renewables is a lesser one than we had previously but it has been demonstrated that even that – and with another ten years to achieve – is not going to be an easy task.

That said with our current infrastructure added to a number of progressive government policies, inventive schemes and forward thinking legislation it is certainly possible.