Renewable energy seems to have been making headlines for all the right reasons this year.
In March it was announced that more electricity was produced by wind and solar sources than by nuclear power stations in the UK; and in October the Government said that Britain had gone the equivalent of more than two months this year without using coal to generate electricity.
But against headlines of 2018 being on course to be the fourth warmest on record, and with the climate change one of the hottest topics within politics (no pun intended), is the UK really doing enough to promote the switch to renewable energy?
Green Investment Has Fallen
In May, the Environmental Audit Committee found that a series of Government policy changes have caused a fall in clean energy investment.
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:
“Billions of pounds of investment is needed in clean energy, transport, heating and industry to meet our carbon targets. But a dramatic fall in investment is threatening the Government’s ability to meet legally binding climate change targets. The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy was long on aspiration, but short on detail.”
“The Government must urgently plug this policy gap and publish its plan to secure the investment required to meet the UK’s climate change targets.”
But while government funding has fallen, it seems public support for renewable energy has grown.
Brits Back Renewables
Recent YouGov polls have shown that two-thirds of British people oppose onshore restrictions that have reduced planning applications for new wind farms by 94 per cent; and that 62% of the British public would like to fit solar panels.
But these results came as the government cut subsidies for green energy across the board, capping the total at £100m by 2019.
Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Century, the UK's largest solar company, said:
“They are backing the wrong horses: nuclear and shale gas, and seem willing actively to suppress solar to make space. They should at least take out a hedged bet on solar, and keep an export tariff for solar generation. As things stand, from next March they intend to allow energy companies to take excess solar electricity generated by solar ‘prosumers’ for free. That is really a retrograde action, especially when you contrast it with the incentives for solar generation elsewhere in the world.”
According to Client Earth's chief executive James Thornton:
“The government can take the lead on climate quickly by cutting off the hundreds of millions of pounds in annual subsidies to fossil fuel power stations and other schemes that are giving carbon-intensive power generation an unfair advantage over renewables.”
But is it even feasible for somewhere like the UK, which averages only 1493 hours of sun per year, to produce 100% of its energy from renewable sources?
Is Renewable Energy Even Feasible In The UK?
The argument against renewable energy is often that Britain doesn’t experience enough sunshine to take advantage of solar, and that other methods of energy generation, such as wind turbines and hydro-power, are not reliable enough to provide the consistent flow of energy we require as a country.
But technology moves fast, and there are countries with similar weather to the UK that are now generating the bulk of their power from renewable energy sources.
In Europe, Norway and Sweden are leading the way in renewable energy production, surpassing their targets and achieving a 69.4% and 53.9% renewable energy share respectively.
In contrast, the UK has fallen short of it’s target, and is generating only 8.2% of its energy from renewable sources.
It seems that the government’s prioritisation of fossil fuels and nuclear energy has left us falling behind other countries, and significant changes are now needed for the UK to even meet its renewable energy target.
But could there be a light at the end of the tunnel?
Could Electric Cars Be The Tipping Point?
In August, electric cars accounted for 1 in every 12 cars sold in the UK, marking the beginning of a huge shift within the industry.
As the cars continue being developed and improved by the manufacturers, and more and more people make the switch to hybrid or electric vehicles, the need for a reliable network of charging points will increase, making the shift to cheap and renewable energy more of an appealing option for businesses.
After all, why pay an electrical company to charge people’s cars when you can harness the power yourself for (almost) free?
Technology has disrupted many markets in recent years, cutting out the middleman in sectors like retail and hospitality, and having a huge impact on the businesses operating within them.
It seems only a matter of time before someone decides to cut out the middleman in the energy sector, forcing big companies to change and shaping the industry’s future for the better; but it seems unlikely there will be large scale changes instigated by the government.
Currently it seems that the UK really isn’t doing enough to promote renewable energy, or have a positive impact on climate change, but who knows what the future holds?!
What do you think?