At Good Energy, we would like to see a nice, easy to follow green path ahead for renewable energy, leading us to a low-carbon future: a non-stop route to decarbonising our electricity, transport and heat sectors. Although we think the future can be clean and green, with the current electricity grid still centred on large, inflexible fossil generators, it may take some time to get there and the transition may not be easy.
But progress is in the air! In this week’s New Scientist magazine, our CEO Juliet Davenport talked about her views on the future of renewables here in the UK.
Renewable energy in the UK in 2017
It’s no secret that although over three-quarters of people in the UK back renewable energy, the government are not quite so supportive. The current planning system has meant that no wind farms in England have received planning permission so far in 2017, and only one site was granted permission in 2016. Although there is currently about 1 GWs worth of wind power going through the English planning system (that’s enough to power over 600,000 homes!) it is unlikely that much, if any of it, will be built.
No energy projects are built at the moment without some sort of government support, and onshore wind is no different. Onshore wind is already on the way to becoming the cheapest form of generation bar-none, and if the Government are serious about reducing bills, then allowing wind the opportunity to provide cheap power is a must. We think that costs will come down even further and as engineering improvements are made, there is a strong future forecast of wind power across the UK, much of which will probably be based in Scotland and Wales.
And what about solar power? The difficulty with building solar farms in the UK is that our electricity network was developed around large power stations, and is having problems coping with the increase in the enormous upscale of local, renewable generation we’ve seen in the last few years. This means that in the sunniest parts of the country we need to either upgrade the network (which can be costly) or work out how to better manage the power output from solar farms using batteries. The use of storage technology is important for all renewables as we move to a world of smart technology, and the government has just published its thoughts on how it plans to do this.
Offshore wind turbines, on the other hand, are already booming, with the Danish company DONG set to build a large wind farm in the North Sea without any government subsidy. The recent launch of the world’s first floating wind turbines off the Scottish coast is an encouraging sign for a sector where the UK and Europe lead the way. We are hoping the same will soon be true of nascent tidal lagoon technology – the government is expected to announce its decision on whether to build a tidal project in Swansea Bay very soon.
A renewable future for the UK
It’s important to note that these technologies are not all competing with each other – they complement each other and are mutually beneficial. We are not looking for 100% wind or 100% solar: we are calling for a future that is completely powered by a balanced set of renewable technologies that are distributed across the country.
Although there are still barriers to really embracing this vision, the prospects for renewables in the UK, and across the globe are huge. We need to see renewables combined with storage and electric vehicles to take advantage of the excess power and make the transition economical. New and improved technologies are exploring inventive ways of harnessing renewable power, increasing technological efficiency and bringing down costs all the time. This is a great time to be part of the renewables movement.