Renewable Energy Policy

With the UK set to go to the polls next month for a General Election political parties and others have been launching their manifestos this week including earlier the Liberal Democrats who included a raft of pro-renewable energy and low carbon commitments in their’s. In it the party say they would reverse the Conservative withdrawal of support for the two low cost renewable technologies, onshore wind and solar, if elected back into government.

They also back wind energy projects in appropriate locations is one such commitment with which they would aim to generate 60 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The manifesto also backs investment in energy storage, smart grid technology, hydrogen technologies, offshore wind, and tidal power. They would introduce a Zero Green Britain Act including legally binding targets to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2040 en route to their total eradication by 2050.

In addition they pledge to support carbon capture and storage, ban fracking and give nuclear power stations a continued role in electricity generation provided they receive no public subsidy. Other key elements of the manifesto proposes to tackle rising energy bills by improving home insulation and encouraging small-scale, community and council run renewable schemes. To help achieve this they would back new entrants to the energy market, aiming for at least 30 per cent of the household market to be supplied by competitors to the “Big 6” suppliers by 2022.

The Lib Dems also state new energy-efficiency targets would be enshrined in a new Green Buildings Act including restoring the zero-carbon standard for new homes and extending it to non-domestic buildings by 2022.

More private investment into renewable energy would be one of the priorities for a £100 billion package of additional infrastructure investment proposed by the party with the manifesto detailing the establishment of a British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to mobilise investment into the low-carbon and sustainable infrastructure.

Finally the party have reversed their support for fracking which they maintained when they held the energy and climate change portfolio in the coalition government.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of onshore oil and gas body UKOOG said: “We are disappointed with the Liberal Democrats’ vow to oppose fracking, which is a reversal from their position when in power when they believed it was ‘in the national interest to move on from the arguments of zealots and vested interests, and start a debate about how best to proceed safely with shale gas exploration.”

Trade industry body Scottish Renewables also launched their manifesto this week detailing how it thinks the government can best ensure affordable energy and clean growth in the future.

In it they highlight the importance of unlocking investment in the lowest-cost forms of energy, supporting the growth of under-established green technologies and accelerating the decarbonisation of heat and transport. In addition they want the government to help local communities benefit from sustainable growth and to deliver a smarter energy system by supporting research and innovation.

Speaking at the manifesto launch Scottish Renewables’ Chief Executive Officer, Niall Stuart, said “Advances in technology and rapid cost reductions mean that our industry can generate further economic and environmental benefit to Scotland and the UK – providing affordable energy for households and business and driving clean growth across the country.

“However, we will only realise those benefits with the right policy framework to unlock the investment, research and innovation required to deliver a secure, modern and low carbon energy system.”

With positive support for renewable energy in the UK still in the majority it may seem hardly surprising that a political party would include a raft of pro policies in their manifesto. However not all have and although such policies are unlikely to alter the overall result they will be a vote winner for many.

Our view however is that regardless which party comes out on top they listen to public and introduce a number of supportive pro-renewable energy policies. Generation costs are low, capacity can be maintained, and the output is clean and pretty much limitless.

 

Renewables in our future energy mix

Last month the UK went through an entire 24 hour period without using electricity generated from coal for what is likely to be the first time since the first coal fired generator started production in 1882. And while this is good news for all that love clean energy we shouldn’t be popping the champagne corks just yet.

There may have been no coal involved in this generation period but only a quarter of the energy produced that day came from renewable sources with half coming from natural gas and other quarter from nuclear.

Also, despite over 58,000 people being employed in the renewables industry in Scotland, generating an annual turnover of £10.5 billion – 48% of all UK employment, and 53% of all UK turnover, in onshore wind is in Scotland – industry body Scottish Renewables warned its members were expecting their workforce to shrink by 16.9% over the next 12 months. Jenny Hogan, Scottish Renewables’ policy director, said one of the main problems was the UK Government refusing to allow onshore wind and solar energy to bid against fossil fuel companies for long-term contracts to supply electricity.

Speaking of these figures Ms Hogan said “These results show that changes to and closures of support schemes are having an impact on our members and on the numbers of employees within their businesses. Onshore wind and solar are the two cheapest forms of electricity, but ministers are refusing to allow them to access long-term contracts for power, which will result in a marked slowdown in investment and a decrease in employment.”

If renewables are going to play a larger role in Scotland’s generation mix then we need more storage. In the longer term batteries may play a role, but for now the proven technology is pumped hydro. However, the industry argues that a lack of certainty around long-term revenue is holding back growth.

SSE senior policy manager, Kate Gillingham, says her company’s planned new facility at Coire Glas, near Loch Lochy in Scotland, is “a major infrastructure investment, with large upfront capital costs and significant lead times. However, the current market conditions do not provide sufficient revenue certainty to enable investment decisions on a new build project.”

This view is supported by ScottishPower whose head of UK hydro at Scottish Power Ross Galbraith has said there needs to be “some way of unlocking investment” to help fund projects like the upgrade of the Cruachan hydro pump scheme.

“We’re really keen work on and look at how we can support and mitigate the risks of large-scale investment associated with pump storage. Depending on the option we choose, Cruachan 2 will cost somewhere between £300 million and £500 million. The lead-time for construction is significant, so we need to find a framework to mitigate the risk of that investment.”

In better news for Scottish Renewables the town of Glenrothes plans to develop a local district heating scheme using low carbon heat from the RWE Markinch biomass plant to heat local homes, businesses and public sector premises. Following on from a public consultation plans have now been submitted to Fife Council regarding the required infrastructure.  Like all district heating schemes implementation will mean a significant reduction in energy bills and carbon emissions.

Mid Fife & Glenrothes MSP, Jenny Gilruth said: ‘‘These exciting plans could make a big difference to lives here in Mid Fife & Glenrothes. As well as offering low-cost low-carbon heating, ‘Glenrothes Heat’ could help alleviate fuel poverty and support Scotland’s climate change targets by reducing local carbon emissions.

“I’d encourage everyone to get along to the consultation event to make sure their views are heard. This is a hugely exciting proposal and I’d be delighted if more constituents voiced their support for the project.”

A potential £8.5million funding support from the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Programme Fund has been secured in principle, and a further £7million from RWE Markinch Ltd could make the project a reality as early as January 2019.

And this seems to be the way with renewables in Scotland at the moment. One day we hear worrying news, the next something positive. However generation levels to continue to increase and we can expect that to continue over the next year or two as the final turbines approved prior to the subsidy cuts are installed and begin exporting to the grid.

This will level off though and as the early turbines enter their decommissioning period the amount of renewable energy generated will start to fall. So if the government is not going to commit to new turbines – and it is unlikely they will – the level of alternative solutions must increase dramatically.

The district heating systems are important but at their current level of implementation are not enough to counter the future loss of wind generation. In addition the likelihood of eventually having 100% of properties on district heating systems is remote at best and therefore we should not be relying on them entirely.

Other technologies, like tidal, are in their infancy but are making great strides to becoming fully commercial operations. In addition a fully maintained network storage system – as mentioned above – would provide a smart solution for lost renewable energy currently being generated.

With a General Election on the horizon here in the UK we hope that any prospective government takes this issue seriously and enforces strong renewable policies to ensure the continued growth of our low carbon energy output and continued reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.