Does the UK already have enough green energy?

May 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Does the UK already have enough green energy?

  • 08 May 2014, 10:00
  • Simon Evans

Nomadic Lass

Renewable electricity developers are doing themselves out of a
job. According to anti-wind group the Renewable Energy Foundation,
they should finish what they’re working on and pack up, because we
don’t need any more of their power. 

Its latest
says there are already
renewable energy projects built, under construction or
given consent to meet our targets. That means there are many more
applications causing
needless anxiety
for homeowners when they could be

Conservative energy minister Michael Fallon has been leading his
against onshore wind turbines and is likely to welcome
these conclusions. There are only two problems with the REF report.
It makes impossibly optimistic assumptions about renewable build
rates. And it assumes the UK can start breaking its own laws after

Will 35 gigawatts (GW) be built by

First, let’s look at REF’s assumption that 35GW of renewable
electricity capacity will be built by 2020. 

REF says: 

“35 GW of renewable electricity capacity
across all renewable technologies has now been consented by the
planning system… It is very likely that those awaiting construction
will actually be built.” 

The 35GW figure for operational, under construction or consented
capacity seems to be broadly accepted. It is pretty much in line
with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) renewable
energy roadmap,
which was updated last November. 

About half of that capacity (16GW) is operational now. Another
4GW is being built. These are the bankers. 

Views start to diverge on the next 15GW of consented capacity,
however. REF says it is “very likely” to be built and so assumes
that all of it will be. But DECC tells Carbon Brief that not all
consented projects will be built. 

DECC data shows that at least 10 per cent of consented onshore
wind turbines and 20 per cent offshore never get built, according
to trade body Renewable UK economics policy officer Alex Coulton.
Recent changes to policy, not least the Conservative’s now
officially anti-wind stance, make it likely that an increasing
number of consented projects will fall by the wayside in

This can and already has happened. Nearly 6GW of consented
offshore windfarm capacity has been
in the past 6 months. So at least some of those
planning applications will be needed to reach 35GW of renewable
electricity capacity in 2020. 

Is 35GW enough to meet EU targets in

Next, let’s look at the REF’s assertion that 35GW is all we need
to meet EU targets. The UK has agreed to an EU target to produce 15
per cent of its energy from renewable sources in 2020. This
includes renewable electricity, renewable heat and renewable
transport fuels. 

REF says 35GW of renewable electricity capacity is enough to
meet half of this target, in line with DECC plans
in 2009. But a DECC spokesperson insists it didn’t
actually specify which technology should be used to meet the 2020

Plans for renewable heat and transport fuels are well behind
schedule, a spokesperson for industry group the Renewable Energy
Association tells us. More renewable electricity would then be
needed to plug the gap. 

Even if it is not needed, the government has set up a ‘levy
control framework’ (LCF) to limit the amount of money spent
subsidising renewable electricity. This will cap the amount of new
capacity that is built by setting a 7.6bn annual LCF budget for

If too many projects apply for subsidies under this budget, DECC
will hold auctions to hand money to the cheapest renewables

Will the government of 2020 break its own

Finally, REF’s report seems to assume there is no need to build
more renewables once the EU 2020 target has been met. It is true
that there is currently no EU
for renewables in 2030. The UK has been one of the major
opponents of such a target. 

But other targets still apply, not least the UK’s legally
binding Climate Change Act that requires an 80% cut in carbon
emissions by 2050. This law could be scrapped. For now, though, it
is still supported by all the major political parties. 

There a a number of ways to reach the binding 80% carbon
reduction. All of them involve a substantial increase in renewable
electricity capacity beyond 2020, according to the government’s
Committee on Climate Change. 

Its projections involve at least 64GW of renewable electricity
capacity in 2030 (see chart). That’s nearly double the 2020 figure
and four times current capacity. It’s also a minimum that assumes
ambitions on nuclear power, carbon capture and storage or energy
efficiency are ramped up significantly. 

Unless the government of 2020 plans on breaking its own laws it
better hope renewable developers keep on building.

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