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 25 2013

Gas Supply Rationing to save UK reserves

A31 covered in snowWith the coldest weather in 50 years, the UK is experiencing an unexpected weather front which is creating chaos when we usually are starting to look towards tulips, daffodils, sunshine and lighter nights. Well if we lost all the pipelines feeding gas into the UK – then we’d only have reserves for 12 hours of gas supply.

Is this a new crisis – well not really! It is indeed true that the UK is very low on its gas reserves but then on a normal day there is only storage to supply the UK for 20 days. Due to the cold weather the demand for gas has been five times higher than is usual at this time of year. We need not unduly panic as there are 3 shipments on their way to the UK this week. The only slight worry we had is that a gas pipeline from Belgium unexpectedly shut down last week which has caused some concern.

However unless all routes into the UK were shut off, the 36 hour reserve would then be a matter of a national crisis. Even now there are rumours of gas rationing to ease the demand over the next few weeks.

The drama has increased gas prices to a record high which may also have a bearing on how much gas is supplied to the UK but more importantly how the end user is likely to pay for this increase in fuel costs.

We have become so used to switching on lights, turning up the heating and expecting our homes to respond to our requests. All this simply points towards creating a sustainable, greener energy source to mitigate potential weakness areas such as our gas reserve. Oh wait a minute, what about wind power?! What a great solution we have, sat right on our doorsteps, to solve many of the issues with our energy security and supply.

And only last week George Osbourne was turning to more reliance on shale gas imports to keep our prices down and our homes heated. This is just one simple lesson learned which should in fact encourage the government to do exactly the opposite, and turn to wind, wave and nuclear to save our bacon when it comes to our ongoing power supply in the UK.

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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!

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