Is the UK about to leave the renewables fast lane?

Experts have warned that recent changes to government energy policies could take Britain out of the renewables ‘fast lane’, despite the recent progress made in the sector.

According to a new report by Regen SW, 19% of electricity in England now comes from renewable sources, with biomass and offshore wind named as the biggest contributors, providing 28% and 25% of all that power, respectively.

Regen SW’s report findings are echoed in the latest government figures, which show renewables are the second largest source of UK electricity supply, contributing 24.3% in 2015/16, compared to 19.3% the year before.

In comparison, coal generated 22% of the country’s electricity – down from 30% in 2014.

The Regen SW report also reports wide variations across the country. Yorkshire and Humber is the top region with 41% of power coming from renewable sources, due largely to the Drax biomass station, while just 3% of electricity in London comes from renewables.

Top five councils by percentage of energy consumption met by renewables

  1. Selby  – 1,629%
  2. East Cambridgeshire – 84%
  3. Rossendale – 81%
  4. Torridge – 65%
  5. Allerdale – 64%

The Drax power station also earned Selby District Council the title of local authority with the highest percentage of energy consumption met through renewables. East Cambridgeshire District Council has second place, thanks to another biomass plant, which produces nearly 70% of the areas renewable electricity.

regensw

The south west has the highest capacity for renewable energy, according to the report with a large number of solar PV installations and supportive planning policies. Both Peterborough City Council and Mid Devon District Council were also singled out by Regen SW for having solar panels on more than 10% of homes, following significant investments by social housing providers.

‘Government policy changes are currently taking the UK out of the fast lane of renewables, and the impact can already be seen on the ground,’ said Regen SW’s chief executive, Merlin Hyman.

‘However, the global shift to a smart, decentralised and renewable energy system is now unstoppable. The leading areas of England are showing how this shift can be turned into an opportunity for businesses and local communities.’

But while the amount of electricity generated from renewables has grown, the report also adds it only provides just 5% of all England’s energy. This is due, in part to the slow progress being made with renewable heat. Across the country, just 3% of household heating comes from renewable sources and the report highlights the slowdown in business in the anaerobic digestion and biomass markets, following last year’s cuts to the Feed-in-Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive programmes.

Top five councils for domestic renewable heat (council installations)

  1. Eden 597
  2. Torridge 606
  3. Ryedale 431
  4. Stroud 893
  5. Mid Devon 581

The report adds that such government policy changes are already having a ‘dramatic effect’ on the sector, and although there are still renewable energy projects with planning permission in the pipeline, no new schemes are in development.

Despite this, the report concludes the medium term prospects remain ‘positive’, particularly as costs continue to fall and renewable energy achieves price parity with other sources of power. It predicts a slowdown in growth until 2019, when renewable energy projects ‘again become viable’.

‘The key factor holding back renewables is now the massive subsidies government continue to pay to prop up fossil fuels,’ the report states.

Photo by DECCgovuk

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Jamie Hailstone

Jamie Hailstone

journalist

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