In 2016, the UK emitted 365.9 million tonnes of CO2 from burning fossil fuels. Therefore, it is essential that we shift towards renewable sources of energy. In 2016, 47% of the UK’s electricity came from low carbon sources, around double the 2010 level. Furthermore, the Government’s 2017 Clean Growth Strategy (HM Government, 2017) committed to phasing out the use of unabated coal generation by 2025. However, the growth of the renewable sector must go further.
A thriving renewable energy sector can have a hugely beneficial impact on the economy:
- Diversity in energy supply reduces the risk of price volatility and encourages efficiency by increasing competition in the sector.
Renewable energy is more labour intensive than the fossil fuel industry, meaning more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.
The UK has the potential to be a world leader in tidal energy. It is the most reliable form of renewable energy, given that there are two high and two low tides per day. In spite of the large construction costs, it can provide a long-term supply of renewable energy. A 2017 report by the former Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, concluded that tidal power offers “an energy opportunity where the UK can reasonably aspire to be the global leader”.
Until recently (June 2018), Swansea Bay tidal lagoon was in the pipeline to be the first tidal lagoon in the world, before being shelved by the UK Government based on cost. On top of saving 236,000 tonnes of carbon each year, the lagoon would also have huge financial benefits:
2,232 construction and manufacturing jobs would be directly sustained by the build.
Estimates predict that the project would contribute £316 million in Gross Value Added to the Welsh economy during construction, then £76 million in each of its 120 years of operation.
The tidal lagoon would become a major tourist attraction, with around 100,000 visitors expected per year, generating trade for local businesses.
British made turbine technology will be at the heart of the project; 2 new manufacturing facilities will be built in Wales.
If Swansea Bay is successful, there is potential for 6 other lagoons around the UK, which would bring much wider economic benefits and a secure energy supply for the UK. However, government support for the Swansea Bay lagoon and tidal power more generally has stalled over concerns of the £1.3 billion cost of construction, with Ministers wishing to focus more on established technologies such as wind and solar. Indeed, the 2017 Clean Growth Strategy states that tidal power needs “to demonstrate how they can compete with other forms of generation”.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on marine energy and tidal lagoons say that the recent decline in the cost of offshore wind can be replicated by tidal lagoons if the UK government backs the proposed 320MW Swansea Bay. You can discuss this potential with your MP.
Solar energy is becoming cheaper and more accessible. Since 2008, the cost of solar cells has fallen by 80%. As a result, solar is being deployed in the UK without government subsidies or support and the capacity is now at 10GW.
The Solar Trade Association (STA) outline a number of economic benefits of solar power:
- Job creation, investment
- Lower energy bills
- Greater energy security
- Cleaner air.
In particular, their research shows that if the UK were to increase its solar capacity by 10GW then 35000 jobs would be created, and carbon emissions would be reduced by 5 million tonnes (Solar Trade Association, 2017).
The government’s Clean Growth Strategy (HM Government, 2017) announced a number of policies to support the solar industry. For example, when a household installs solar panels on their property they pay a reduced rate of VAT of 5%. Furthermore, some of the funds from the £200 million Rural Development Plan for England Growth Programme could be used to support solar panel projects.
The past few years have seen significant strides forward in wind power. Like solar, wind is also beginning to compete on price with coal and gas. The cost of onshore wind power has fallen by 50% since 2009, while the cost of offshore wind power has fallen even more rapidly, with a 50% drop in prices in the last two years (HM Government, 2017).
At 5.8GW the UK now has the largest installed offshore wind capacity. According to a recent report by Renewable UK (2017), offshore wind power could supply over a third of the UK’s power by 2030. The Government is also currently negotiating a Sector Deal with the wind industry that could increase the UK’s offshore wind capacity by 10GW.
A particularly interesting recent development is the installation of the first floating wind farm, off the coast of Aberdeenshire. Floating wind farms are anchored to the seabed by cables and can thus be deployed in deeper and windier waters. The wind farm was installed by Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil company, in October 2017 and has a 30MW capacity. There are three more floating wind farm projects currently being planned.
Onshore wind projects are often more controversial than offshore. There is currently 12GW of onshore wind capacity. However, they are often seen as eyesores by many and MPs are concerned about supporting onshore wind projects because they may antagonise their constituents.
The wind industry is proving to be highly valuable to the British economy. Cambridge Econometrics (2017) estimate that the offshore wind industry will directly create 21000 jobs by 2032, with a further 37000 created indirectly. The research says that this will be particularly beneficial for the east coast of England. Furthermore, business’ knowledge of the wind industry and their leading role in manufacturing components provides the UK with an opportunity to export to markets across the world, including China, the US and India (Renewables UK, 2017).
Energy storage technologies can store the energy produced by renewable sources and release it when it is required. Given that renewable energy sources can fluctuate in their output, the storage of energy is important to make the supply more stable and secure.
The government’s industrial strategy committed £246 million into the development of battery storage technologies. According to the APPG on Energy Storage (2017), if the government successfully implements its current policies then the UK will have 12GW of battery storage by the end of 2021, up from 0.06GW in 2016.
There are a number of potential economic benefits of developing the UK’s energy storage:
The UK Government estimates that the battery storage industry will be worth £5 billion in the UK and £50 billion across Europe by 2025.
Research by the Renewable Energy Association (2016) shows that a 2GW increase in energy storage could create up to 10 000 jobs.
Storage can reduce costs for businesses as they can store energy when prices are low and use it when prices rise.
What can I ask my MP to do to support renewable energy?
In the short term, the Solar Trade Association would like to see the cutting of red tape around solar panels being installed in households, and the dropping of business rate increases on rooftop solar. They estimate that business rates on rooftop solar could increase the tax bill of an average small company by £1093. You could discuss these measures with your MP.
The Feed in Tariff was introduced in 2010 and provides payment to individuals or groups who generate their own renewable energy in small scale projects. However, the size of the payment has effectively fallen from 43.3p per kWh in 2010 to 4.39p per kWh today. You could ask your MP to raise concerns about this.
A more radical proposal that has recently been put forward by the government of the Balearic Islands in Spain is to install solar panels on all buildings with a roof greater than 1000 square metres. You could discuss such opportunities with your MP.
You could ask your MP to write to the government requesting that it overturns its 2015 ban on subsidies for onshore wind projects. Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (2017) estimates that this ban adds roughly £100 million per year to energy bills.
You could ask your MP to lobby the government to extend subsidies for floating wind. These subsidies that are due to end in October 2018. If this happens then two floating wind farm projects in Scotland will not be able to go ahead.
The APPG on Energy Storage’s estimate of 12GW storage capacity by 2021 requires the government to implement all of their current policy proposals. You could see if your MP would ask the Minister about the progress of the implementation of these policies.
We now have an entire resource on renewable energy, which you can visit by clicking here.
Last updated: 24/04/2018