The renewables race: are we winning? – Positive News

It could actually appear as if a brand new renewables milestone is reached each week within the UK. So in relation to infrastructure, expertise and deployment, the place are we? Right here’s your fast information


The UK is the Saudi Arabia of wind. The place they’ve oil, now we have the breeze. After years of lukewarm political help (Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, Bernard Ingham, famously derided wind generators as “toilet brushes within the sky”), successive governments have begun to cotton on to their potential.

Pushed by quickly bettering applied sciences, falling prices and authorities monetary help, the UK now has round 11,000 wind generators in operation, sufficient to provide 1 / 4 of our electrical energy wants.

It’s second solely to pure gasoline. “It’s an exceptional achievement,” says Matthew Clayton, managing director of renewable power funding firm Thrive Renewables.

Though onshore wind stays the most cost effective choice, its growth is at present restricted by planning constraints, notably in England. Offshore crops, in the meantime, have seen a speedy rise. Right here the UK has nice potential, thanks to an intensive shoreline and a shallow seabed. The Crown Property has lately introduced substantial new areas for improvement of floating offshore wind farms off the UK’s south-western coasts, which might add 4GW of capability – sufficient to energy 4m houses.

In the meantime, the newest authorities contracts issued for offshore wind power have been awarded to bids made at file lows, nicely beneath present common wholesale electrical energy costs. Which means these renewables are usually not solely subsidy-free, however really returning cash to the federal government.

Onshore wind stays the most cost effective choice, however its growth is restricted by planning constraints. Picture: Karsten Wurth

Photo voltaic

Plunging prices – by as much as 90 per cent this century – have helped to energy a speedy growth in photo voltaic photovoltaics (PV). The UK is probably not all that sunny, however fashionable photo voltaic PV is more and more in a position to harvest significant quantities of energy, even when it’s cloudy.

A spectacularly beneficiant subsidy scheme a decade or so in the past inspired hundreds of owners to place photo voltaic on their roofs. Now, what Clayton describes because the “completely staggering” fall in prices means bigger photo voltaic farms are commercially viable with out subsidy, spurring progress that even a pandemic couldn’t derail.

Put in capability is skyrocketing. The UK added 545MW in 2020 alone, Covid or no Covid, a rise of over 1 / 4 on 2019. This in flip was dwarfed by the 730MW put in in 2021 – an extra 36 per cent improve. Photo voltaic now meets nicely over 4 per cent of our electrical energy wants. For Clayton, photo voltaic’s attraction is its predictability – whereas the quantity of daylight varies day after day, it’s pretty fixed over a yr.

Along with speedy advances in panel effectivity, and improvements comparable to monitoring (the place the panel follows the solar by the day), photo voltaic “has an enormous function to play” in future, Clayton predicts.

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However what about these occasions when the solar doesn’t shine, the wind doesn’t blow? Reply: storage. A well-established answer is ‘pumped storage’: utilizing surplus energy to pump water uphill right into a reservoir, from the place it may be launched when wanted to drive generators, similar to a hydroelectric plant. This tried-and-tested expertise might see “a 4 or fivefold” improve within the coming years, says Clayton. And as local weather instability will increase the necessity for reservoirs, these might play a twin function.

Batteries, in contrast, are the brand new child on the block in relation to grid-balancing duties. Economies of scale are driving down value right here too, permitting some severely chunky battery farms to take form, like the brand new ‘gigafactory’ to be inbuilt Coventry. Smaller modules are viable too, although.

And as Clayton factors out, the rising ft of electrical autos accommodates a readymade small-scale storage community within the type of their batteries, which might trickle energy to and from the grid as wanted.

Storing photo voltaic and wind power is vital to unlocking the potential of renewables. Picture: Pink Zeppelin


The UK’s industrial revolution was based on water energy, and it nonetheless performs a small however vital half in our power combine right now, assembly round 1.6 per cent of electrical energy wants in 2020 (the identical as coal).

There’s renewed curiosity in pretty small-scale crops: “They’ll present the flexibleness the grid wants,” says Clayton. The rising demand for reservoirs to maintain water flowing by our faucets creates a chance for larger-scale hydro energy too.

Tidal crops comparable to that proposed for Swansea Bay, whereas costly, might sooner or later generate a considerable share of our electrical energy wants.


Burning wooden as an alternative of coal to provide electrical energy is the black sheep of the renewables household. On the plus facet, the mass conversion of energy technology firm Drax’s coal-fired crops in Yorkshire has boosted biomass’s share of the UK’s electrical energy manufacturing to six.5 per cent. 

Proponents argue that combining such crops with BECCS expertise (biomass power with carbon seize and storage), as Drax is creating, might even obtain a ‘web constructive’ energy plant – really decreasing the quantity of CO2 within the ambiance. However the expertise is but to be confirmed on a big scale, and concerns mount as to the future sustainability of bioenergy.

Carbon seize expertise might make burning wooden ‘planet constructive’, supporters say. Picture: Alexander Schimmeck


Geothermal harnesses the pure warmth in rocks deep beneath the Earth’s floor, utilizing it to provide steam that may drive electrical energy generators 24/7, in addition to offering warmth for close by communities. Whereas insignificant at current, it has appreciable potential, says Clayton, notably in locations like Cornwall.

Thrive is investing in a project at United Downs in Cornwall, which additionally has the potential to extract lithium for batteries. “Three sustainable merchandise from one venture,” says Clayton, “is de facto, actually constructive.”

Thrive Renewables has constructed, or funded the development of, 26 wind, photo voltaic, hydro and warmth initiatives. Discover out extra here.

Illustration: Andrea Manzati

That is an replace of an article initially printed on 19 October 2021. 


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