The Renewable Energy Centre

Jan 19 2016

Winds of change for renewable energy

Each year in January, it’s become a habit for publications to review the past year and give forecasts for the year ahead on various subjects. So what’s been said about renewable energy achievements over 2015 and the prospects for 2016?

Charity WWF Scotland analysed data from monitor WeatherEnergy to produce a report saying 2015 was “huge” for green energy in Scotland, and this was picked up by the Scottish Herald. The paper reported that Scottish wind and solar power experienced a bumper year, with wind output generating enough electricity for almost all of the country’s homes.

Just about everywhere in the UK experienced higher-than-average numbers of windy days during December and Scotland was particularly hard hit by storm damage. However, the extreme weather had a positive side – during December 2015, Scotland’s wind turbines produced enough power to supply more than 100 per cent of Scottish households on all but two days that month.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said that for 2015 as a whole, overall wind power output broke all previous records, generating enough to supply the electrical needs of 97 per cent of Scottish homes – or the equivalent of 41 per cent of Scotland’s entire electricity needs for the year. This was up by almost a fifth year-on-year, thanks largely to an increase in installed capacity.

Onshore windfarm imageSolar power also played a major role in preventing thousands of tonnes of climate-damaging carbon emissions. Karen Robinson of WeatherEnergy said: “Despite misconceptions, Scotland has massive potential for using solar power.” Figures collected show that homes fitted with solar PV panels in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness experienced enough sunshine during April and May to generate all the electricity needs of an average home.

Mr Banks called upon all political parties in Scotland to back policies that would enable Scotland to become the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation by 2030.

Former Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith spoke to The Guardian a week after the close of the Paris summit that resulted in a UN climate change deal to limit global warming to below 2C. He was concerned that the UK was going into reverse on renewable energy, while favouring the development of the shale gas industry. “They need to be moving along on both fronts, not just one,” Lord Smith told the newspaper.

Recent Government moves criticised by renewable energy supporters include decisions to end new public subsidies for onshore windfarms and 64% cuts to solar subsidies for small scale panels on homes.

Subsidies for onshore windfarms will now end from April 1 2016, a year earlier than set out in the previous Conservative Lib-Dem coalition agreement. The cut in subsidies for domestic solar panels was originally put forward at 87% and was softened after an outcry, but the solar industry still estimates it will cost thousands of jobs. Leonie Greene from the Solar Trade Association said: “We thought the government had listened more to our case. We are very disappointed.”

The government accepts the solar panels industry will be badly hit by the move, but insists the time has come to remove the levy from householders’ bills. Energy Secretary Amber Rudd announced: “We have to get the balance right and I am clear that subsidies should be temporary, not part of a permanent business model. When the cost of technologies comes down, so should the consumer-funded support.”

Large-scale solar farms are cost-competitive, said Rudd, and solar had nearly reached grid parity. The sector is worried about a new government cap on the volume of solar installations and says it is being forced to stand on its own feet before it is ready.

Reducing billpayer support is also behind the intervention over onshore windfarms. The funding for the subsidies comes from the “renewable obligation”, raised by levies added to household fuel bills. There will be a grace period for projects that already have planning permission but Labour claims the move jeopardises 1,000 wind turbines that are awaiting planning permission and cannot make a profit without a government subsidy. In future, local communities – rather than national government – will be given the right to veto windfarms.

Overall, many business leaders and environmentalists are concerned that the UK government needs to make a major U-turn in energy policy if it is to avoid charges of hypocrisy following the commitments it made at last month’s Paris summit, when 196 countries signed the deal aimed at limiting global temperature rises to less than 2C.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, told The Guardian that ministers needed to take action at home as well as making their voice heard abroad. “The government must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants,” she said.

Wind and marine energy trade body RenewableUK fears announcements made in 2015 have undermined Britain’s ability to meet new CO2 targets. It predicts a busy year of construction in 2016 for both onshore and offshore wind energy projects, but believes the Government’s withdrawal of financial support will severely curtail onshore schemes beyond that.

Mar 12 2013

Should the UK commit to a decarbonisation target?

Green Question MarkThere has been much debate over the last few years regarding the UK’s decarbonisation programme. For those who are unsure as to what this involves, below are a few points of explanation:

  • Although the UK already has renewable energy production targets and CO2 emissions targets it is widely thought that an additional target which starts at the source of power production would help further promote the commitment to climate change
  • Every power station which produces electricity also produces CO2 emissions
  • The idea is to implement technology which reduces CO2 at source, therefore producing electricity which is decarbonised at the point of distribution
  • The ideal decarbonisation figure is an 80% reduction than that of today
  • Decarbonisation would help to stabilise electricity prices to the consumer

The political debate which has been ongoing is with regard to the current coalition government’s reluctance to include a decarbonisation target for 2030 in the Energy Bill.

Many lobbyists think the target is essential to ensure continued investment in renewable energy projects in the UK as it makes a clear statement that the country is committed to low carbon power generation. Without the target many fear that the UK will be seen as a country happy to continue polluting the atmosphere if the focus remains upon gas as the primary power source.

The target would also help encourage investment in Carbon Capture and Storage solutions for the power industry to ensure ongoing low carbon power production from fossil fuels.

It is unclear whether the real reasons for the current reluctance is down to the opinions of one man or whether there are other underlying factors. Many believe that George Osborne is the bottleneck to moving forward on the establishment of a target.

Only this week six major energy companies jointly wrote a strongly worded letter in full support of setting a decarbonisation target as soon as possible.

So what is the upshot of all this? Why is it so important to add another target to those already in place. In my view it’s clear that time is moving forward and the options for changes within certain timeframes are reducing. These changes are not being made in time to support investment or to continue meeting the demand for electricity in the UK using renewable or low carbon solutions.

From what I have seen, the UK has always been able to meet a deadline. We have made some drastic changes country-wide over the years such as the move from town gas to North Sea gas and the implementation of new money. So where there is certainly a will do get things done, there is a way to meet the deadline.

My view is to get on with it and set the deadline and start the process of making the production of electricity a low carbon power across the board.

Feb 18 2013

The Wind Power Results are in!

It was reported recently in the Guardian that Wind Power Farm2012 saw another great leap forward for the wind power industry, not only in the UK but across the globe. A 20% growth was seen in 2012 totalling 45GW of power. Top of the pops were the USA and China installing 13GW each.

To be fair this is not something I thought would have been the case. China is still pretty active when it comes to fossil fuel power stations as they are still much cheaper for them to build and run than renewables.

However wind is doing its part when it comes to cost and in Australia it is now cheaper to build a wind farm than a coal fired power station. Obviously costs can vary significantly depending on the country but the overall prognosis looks very promising as time moves on.

Both China and the US have been slow to gain ground with regard to climate change and renewable energy but clearly seem to have embraced wind power as an effective means of generation.

Just this week, Obama is under pressure in his State of the Union address to commit to an aggressive climate change strategy and to assure Americans that the effects and consequences of excessive carbon emissions are already happening.

For such a small land mass, the UK sits 6th in the world for the amount of installed wind power and currently leads the table with regard to offshore capacity. This is a good story for the UK after recently falling foul of the European Court of Justice for failing to comply with new EU energy regulations.

Although the push to decrease global carbon emissions is now on the agenda, there is still a long way to go and despite these very positive figures, the overall investment to renewable energy production decreased by 11% over the course of 2012.

Much of the decrease can be attributed to some countries feeling the pinch from the ever changing economic situation, so although the decrease could be seen as disturbing, I hope that as and when the economy improves the renewable energy roadmap will be back on track.

It is however safe to say that there is still a very long way to go and even now there is still some debate and denial about the severity of the situation in some countries. I think it is plain to see that the effects of climate change are slowly creeping in and will only get worse. The demands of the last century on the natural resources of this planet have certainly contributed and will continue to do so.

Is there a case for pushing reduced global emissions and a renewable energy production target which is much more aggressive – I am pretty sure there is!

Comments off | Category: Renewable Energy | Tags:  , ,

Feb 07 2013

Carbon Permits – what are they really worth?

Power Station Carbon EmissionsDespite all the fresh annoucements about the Green Deal and the new Energy Bill, the UK is still struggling to meet its EU targets both for CO2 emissions and renewable energy generation.

This week there has been a lot of bad press over the carbon price – which has fallen to record lows, possibly highlighting that the trading of carbon permits is failing. Companies across Europe which emit CO2 can purchase permits if they exceed their required output levels but can also sell them if they have surplus. The buying and selling rate moves with demand but this week bidders didn’t even meet the reserve price of 5Euros per tonne.

This in itself is a worrying trend however my view of this paper trading of carbon is simply a money making exercise rather than one of controlling or reducing carbon emissions. In my humble view there should simply be a reduction cap which increases year on year (much the same as the renewable energy roadmap) so that companies invest in reducing their carbon emissions, rather than simply paying to increase them! Surely the money is better spent changing the wheels of industry which have lead us here but also to physically change the carbon dioxide levels.

Any kind of dramatic change takes time but the world has shifted in one century through an industrial revolution to create a world which relies heavily on the burning of fossil fuel. Much of the world’s economy is based around fuel and to initiate change in such a profitable sector will take time. However at the manufacturing or industrial end of the scale, ie where the output occurs, step changes could be made in relatively short periods of time to dramatically reduce CO2 output.

It may be a simplistic and shortsighted viewpoint  but is it possible that a paper trail which never ends and simply trades one way and the other in order to compensate for excessive emissions is the really the right way forward?

Industry is not just at fault, aviation, transportation and each individual homeowner holds much of the remaining responsibility. Although taxes are increasing in the aviation and transport sectors, there is currently no legislation or incentive for the majority of people to change the way they live, work and heat their homes. How would the carbon permit system work for the homeowner I wonder, would it even work at all?

Answers on 100% recycled postcard please!

Comments off | Category: Political Opinion | Tags:  , ,


Read about the renewable energy industry and view comments and opinions about climate change in the UK and globally.

Latest Posts