Renewable Energy in the UK

The energy supply group, Drax, reported that on Christmas Day 2016 in the UK, more than 40% energy generation came from renewable sources. This was the highest ever. The UK’s energy mix is drastically changing but at the moment still a long way to go in terms of supply consistency.

No individual technology will provide the solution to the energy problem and climate change - the UK’s energy mix will have to become increasingly diverse, taking on a range of renewables.

The UK’s 2020 target for energy from renewable sources: deliver at least 30% of the UK’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020.

UK renewable energy generation (Source: DUKES report 2012)

  • Electricity generation in the UK from renewable sources increased by 29% between 2014 and 2015.     
  • The contribution of all renewables to UK electricity generation was 24.6% in 2015, 5.5% higher than in 2014.
  • Offshore wind generation was 30% higher than in 2014, with capacity up 13 per cent.
  • Solar photovoltaic generation increased by 87% in 2015

The energy demand problem

Image: A diagram to explain utilising passive solar energy in new homes


Demand for energy in the UK and around the world is increasing rapidly. Per capita use is increasing globally and as quality of life is increasing in the developing world, energy consumption is particularly here. The International Energy Agency says the world will need almost 60% more energy in 2030 than in 2002.

As well as making our energy system cleaner, there are also innovative ways to reduce our energy demand for buildings in the UK:

Passive solar design (PSD), is when buildings are designed to utilise the energy from the sun, resulting in additional energy savings. A home or building which utilises passive solar energy usually has large south facing windows so that the heat energy from sunlight naturally heats the home, and is then well insulated to ensure the heat doesn’t escape in winter. It is important that the south facing windows are properly shaded, usually by an overhanging roof to prevent overheating in summer months.

Wind energy

The UK is the windiest country in Europe and could power itself several times over using wind. Wind turbines can operate in speeds as low as 5 mph. About 40 per cent of all wind energy in Europe blows over the UK, (Energy Saving Trust) making it an ideal country for wind turbines.

Offshore wind:

The UK generates more electricity from offshore wind than any other country. It has more wind farms than the rest of the world combined with 26 offshore wind farms, while the rest of the world combined has only 18. The sector meets around 5% of annual demand and this is expected to grow to 10% by 2020 (Crown Estate).

You can view a map put together by Crown Estates which shows the generation of electricity by offshore wind in the UK in the current moment, as well as the contribution of each individual wind farm.

Some interesting facts to note are:

  • 18,300 people are employed in the offshore wind sector
  • 3.2 million homes were powered by offshore wind in 2014

Onshore wind:

Onshore wind has an important role to play as one of the most cost-effective and proven renewable energy technologies.The UK’s onshore wind sector is much more widely developed than the offshore wind sector. There are 5733 onshore wind turbines in the UK compared to a total of 1465 offshore wind turbines.

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in 2011 onshore wind generated enough power for £2.6 million homes and saved more carbon emissions than a footprint the size of Leeds.

Onshore wind could deliver around 14% of the required total energy for UK’s 2020 renewable energy target.

If the turbines need to be taken down, there is no damage to the environment and nothing left behind. There are often concerns surrounding onshore wind farms, threatening the natural landscape and noise generation. Despite the many benefits of onshore wind to the UK’s energy supply and economy, MPs are often aware of these issues for their constituents.

Tidal energy

Tidal energy is a fairly new form of renewable energy creation. The UK has huge potential to lead the way in terms of tidal energy being surrounded by water, with the possibility for tidal energy to generate 20% of Britain’s energy requirements. Read more about tidal here, including a case study of the first proposed tidal lagoon in the world, hopefully to be constructed in Swansea Bay.

Solar energy

Solar panels can either be implemented at the domestic level or the industrial scale. The solar panels capture the sun's energy using photovoltaic cells and convert the sunlight into electricity. The panels can generate electricity on a cloudy day also. Solar panels are versatile and can be installed quickly on a wide range of surfaces, including on domestic and commercial buildings as well as on the ground.

There are many benefits to installing solar energy on your home:

  • You can make huge carbon savings; the Energy Saving Trust tells us that home solar panels could see carbon savings of 2 tonnes a year
  • Once you have paid for the initial generation, you cut your energy costs because sunlight is free unlike fossil fuels
  • You can sell surplus electricity back to the grid through the Government’s feed-in-tariff scheme.

Small scale renewables

Community Energy are community owned renewable energy projects which allow communities to take back control of their energy supply, with many benefits for the community as a whole. You can visit our page on community energy here.

Feed-in tariffs (FIT) are a financial support scheme for eligible low-carbon electricity technologies, aimed at small-scale installations with a capacity of less than 5 Megawatts (MW). The number of solar panel installations, particularly on domestic properties, increased rapidly at the start of the FIT scheme. The rate of increase slowed significantly after August 2012 following tariff reductions introduced to reflect the rapidly falling costs of solar modules. In the first five years of FITs (April 2010 – March 2015) over 680,000 installations were registered under the scheme. This is significantly ahead of the original projections (750,000 installations by 2020), and has resulted in an annual spend considerably above the original budget estimates.

You can benefit from FITs in 3 ways:

  1. Generation Tariff: your energy supplier will pay you a set rate for each unit (or kWh) of electricity you generate
  2. Export Tariff: you can sell any electricity you generate but don't use yourself back to the electricity grid
  3. Energy Bills Savings: you will make savings on your electricity bills because by generating your own electricity, you don’t have to buy as much electricity from your energy supplier

Recent policy changes for renewable energy

  • There have been substantial cuts to feed in tariffs since 2015.
  • In 2012 the government ended subsidies for onshore wind, resulting in the cancellation of many onshore wind turbines.
  • The gap in EU policy and subsidies available threatens the meeting of renewable energy targets.

Asking your MP to support climate policy

There are ways in which we can reduce energy demand in the first place through increasing the energy efficiency of housing. You can read more about this here. 

  • Feed-in-tariffs are a great incentive for businesses and individual households to install renewable energies. However drastic cuts in feed in tariffs have become a new barrier to both commercial and domestic installation, making them now inaccessible to many people. You can ask your MP to support an increase in feed-in-tariffs by writing to Greg Clark, the Minister for Energy and Industrial Strategy, or raising the issue in parliament.
  • Back tidal energy: In January 2017 the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon was backed by a government-commissioned review. You can ask your MP for continued support for these projects as there are plans for at least 5 other tidal projects around the UK, following the hopeful success of Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.
  • Support community energy: When Hope for the Future met with Sheffield Renewables, they said the biggest barrier to the success of community renewable projects is grounded in policy. With support from local MPs, these projects can thrive and give many benefits back to the community. You can visit our information page on community energy here to find out more information, as well as where to search community energy projects local to you.

In terms of large scale renewable projects, including onshore and offshore wind, solar and hydroelectric energy, there is requirement for continued MP support. The energy decisions made today will have consequences far into the future, in terms of investments and the UK’s performance on a global economic scale, the impact on society and on global climate.