This seemingly optimistic scenario is very much a possibility according to a report by WWF, so what will it take for us to get ahead of the game now and make it a reality?
It’s 2030, and the UK is a world leader in green energy, sourcing more than 60% of its electricity from renewables. Given that the 2010 figure was just 7%, this may seem an unlikely scenario. Not so, says WWF, in a new report. Positive Energy argues that it is within the technical potential of renewables to meet between 60 and 90% of the UK’s electricity demand by 2030 – if the Government takes the right action now.
So what action is that? First off, the report recommends that the Government should make ‘60% by 2030’ its new target, sending a strong signal to investors that renewables will remain a priority post-2020. This needs to be backed by giving the Green Investment Bank power to borrow before 2015. Further recommendations include absolute targets for reducing electricity demand, complemented by efficiency incentives such as the Green Deal [see 'Can the Green Deal win Britons over?']. The UK should also improve its connection with European grids, says the report, allowing it to export any surplus electricity and to import offshore wind, solar and geothermal sources generated elsewhere.
And what about the capital costs? The report estimates that an investment of over £130 billion will be required to install the 29GW outlined for 2030 in the Government’s Renewable Energy Roadmap. However, this does not take into account the potential benefits through new revenue streams and job growth, and – the report argues – it could be significantly reduced by cutting our demand for energy.
“It is time we faced up to the plethora of hidden and unsustainable social, environmental and economic costs of shale gas and nuclear which divert us from the long-term safe, secure and affordable energy provided by substantial renewables scale up”, says Dax Lovegrove, Head of Business at WWF-UK. “Not only that, but we should also recognise it is in the UK’s interests to position ourselves as exporters of clean technology and know-how ahead of the inevitable international clamour for such services. Greening can only be good for our economy.”
The bulk of renewable energy is set to come from wind. By 2020, this is expected to account for 69% of Britain’s renewable energy portfolio. But two things could slow its growth, says the report: resistance to onshore wind farm developments, and increases in the cost of offshore wind power due to currency fluctuations and rises in commodity prices.
The UK is unlikely to be a lead country in solar power because the technology is “relatively mature and has been deployed elsewhere”, said Jenny Banks, an energy and climate change policy officer at WWF, adding that wave and tidal are at relatively early stages of development, and are likely to be 10-15 years behind offshore wind in deployment. The two marine power sources have huge potential, however.
But the biggest obstacle facing renewable energy is political rather than technical, added Banks. Changes to subsidies – such as the Government’s roll-back of support for domestic solar installations – unsettle investors, who may take their money elsewhere. But if the money can be persuaded to stay, there is huge economic potential. The global renewable energy market is expected to be worth $331 billion by 2015, according to BCC Research. And in the UK, the Carbon Trust has estimated that the industry could create about 70,000 jobs by 2020. – Nick Huber
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