The UK reached a renewable energy milestone this summer – with wind turbines and solar panels helping to generate more than half of the UK’s electricity for the first time.
National Grid data showed that, on June 7, solar panels produced about 7.6GW of electricity and wind farms generated 9.5GW. On top of that 2GW was created through biomass and a small amount of hydropower added to the renewable mix too.
The total – 19.3GW – was more than half of the 35.4GW demand, and renewables and nuclear both created more than oil and gas put together, adding to the feeling that this was an important landmark moment.
But, is it enough? Take a look around the world and you’ll see that the UK’s figures might be impressive, but they’re hardly out of the ordinary. In Australia, renewable sources can create enough electricity to power 70 per cent of homes – a figure that is expected to reach 90 per cent when new wind and solar projects are completed.
The more we create, the more we can consume. There are, however, three key motivating factors that should push the UK to go much further and not become complacent in light of this summer’s milestone.
The need to meet green targets
The UK has signed up to some tough energy targets – and greater use of renewables is needed if we’re to get anywhere close to achieving those.
Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change committee raised fears last summer that the UK will not be on course to provide 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources – and the country is actually one of just three in the EU to increase its reliance on imported energy in the last decade.
Further investment in renewables is necessary to close the gap and meet commitments.
Using natural advantages
Those targets set out why we need to find more renewable capacity – but there are other factors that suggest this should be done.
Both geographic and economic situations present an opportunity when it comes to renewables.
The nature of the UK – as an island nation surrounded by water – means that it should be well placed to take advantage of both wind and tidal power. The UK is also blessed with the academic institutions and scientific capacity to get ahead of the curve with tidal power, which has traditionally been seen as expensive to harness. Back in the 1980s, the UK squandered a similar chance to be a world leader for wind power, losing its crown to Denmark over time.
Re-skilling the economy
At a time in which the UK is looking to forge a new economic future – outside of the European Union – renewables also offer a lifeline to parts of the country that used to rely on heavy industry for employment.
The UK’s renewable sector is already exporting goods and services but towns and cities that have suffered from the harsh competition of globalization – areas where the steel industry was once strong, for example – have the infrastructure and workforce that can be re-skilled and set to work on this challenge.
Putting money into renewables creates wider investment in a whole range of companies too – with a ripple effect on those supplying parts and preparing the materials required for everything from solar panels to wind turbines and biomass boilers.
The UK has made progress in the development of renewable energy but it has some way to go if it will meet emissions targets. Not only that, but there is a big opportunity to make use of the UK’s resources and grab economic growth by going much further. In that regard, the country could and should do more to tap into the power of renewable energy.