Decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system

New data released this week from the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) shows that despite the majority of the UK’s energy system still being powered by fossil fuels the level is reducing and at no point since the introduction of commercial electricity and gas has the use of fossil fuels been this low.

UK energy fossil fuel usage fell in the third quarter of last year by 2% on a year to year basis to 78.7%. This also marks a reduction of almost 10% since the beginning of 2013 which perfectly illustrates the changes our energy systems have been going through over the last few years.

Low carbon energy now makes up 50% of the UK’s electricity mix whilst coal now only provides 3.6% of the power going to the grid confirming that the 2025 target of phasing out coal power completely from the grid is on track.

Also in the new figures from BEIS renewables now make up 25% of the country’s electricity supply with nuclear proving the same and gas adding 43.6%.

There is however concern that without further action and policies to encourage more clean renewable energy sources decarbonisation progress is likely to stall. A new emissions reduction plan has been promised by the government which is set to include details of new policies designed to continue the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

One such new technology which should be prominently used in our quest to reduce of carbon emissions is floating wind farms and this week the Highland Council in Scotland approved a floating wind farm demonstration to be constructed near Thurso called the Dounreay Tri floating offshore wind farm project.

Traditional offshore wind farms are restricted by the depth of the ocean that they are situated in with relatively shallow waters required as at deeper levels they become too dangerous, difficult, and costly to build. Floating offshore wind turbines therefore open up the possibility of installation much further out to sea where wind is stronger and more consistent. Also floating wind turbine technology has evolved into more stable structures recently making the project more viable.

Scotland’s Highland Council approved the Dounreay Trì floating offshore wind farm project this week, opening up the way for Marine Scotland to now complete its assessment and make a recommendation on the project to Scottish Ministers by the 31st of March.

The demonstration will consist of two 5MW turbines and if successful will produce enough electricity to supply approximately 8,000 homes.  Also more importantly it demonstrate the viability of floating offshore wind farms particularly in the deeper waters of the North and West coasts of Scotland.

Marcus Thor, Project Director for Dounreay Trì Limited, commenting on the Council’s decision said “We are delighted that the Council has agreed with this project and hope that Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government can take a timely decision on it. This demonstration facility which will be built and operated in Scotland opens up the possibility for a significant increase in offshore wind generation and associated supply chain benefits in Scotland.”

Speaking of the news of the approval Lang Banks director at WWF Scotland said “This proposal still has a few planning process steps to go through. However, successfully developing floating turbines could enable Scotland and other nations to secure even more clean power from offshore wind in the future. Whatever the outcome of these proposals, we will certainly need lots more conventional offshore wind in the future.”

Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables Lindsay Roberts said “Scotland is home to approximately 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resource and we are now starting to build out projects which will harness this potential. We’re also at the forefront of innovation in this exciting sector and projects like this one are part of a new chapter for our renewable energy industry.”

In order to achieve the level of decarbonisation of our energy system required in order to reach our targets – and hopefully go beyond – more technological advancements like those which have made floating wind turbines possible are needed.

In order for this to happen investment in research and development must be encouraged and actively sought. This can be achieved by both new government policies such as those touched upon above and a focussed and determined industry.

Reaching the targets can be achieved but it will require us all to be pulling in the one direction.

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