Chris Huhne's Renewable Energy Road Map

In his White Paper published July 2011, Chris Huhne has set out the UK's first Renewable Energy Roadmap. The 107 page document looks in detail at the "shared approach to unlocking our renewable energy potential". The paper recognises there are constraints that need to be overcome in order to deliver an 80% cut in UK carbon emissions by 2050. Issues such as the financial investment needed for renewable energy as well as investment in innovation, infrastructure and the supply chain all need to be addressed to allow for a transformation in the UK from a reliance on fossil fuels to a greater focus on the use renewable energy technologies. As well as aiming to make the UK more self-sufficient in its energy production, the paper states that by investing in renewable energy the UK will have a greater independence from future fossil fuel price fluctuations and supply issues. With the potential of surplus power from the UK being sold to Ireland and mainland Europe, this export could present an opportunity for the UK, not only increasing security of supply but also providing new manufacturing and jobs in the renewable energy sector within the UK.

The Top Eight Renewable Technologies

The white paper identifies a number of technologies which are believed to be capable of delivering over 90% of the renewable energy required to meet the carbon reduction target:

  • Onshore wind
  • Offshore wind
  • Biomass Electricity
  • Marine (wave/tidal)
  • Biomass heat (non-domestic)
  • Air-source and ground-source heat pumps (non-domestic)
  • Renewable Transport

In order to meet 15% of this target by 2015, the UK will need to generate 234 Terawatt Hours (TWh) of renewable energy. The Roadmap estimates that onshore wind will be able to deploy 24-32TWh; offshore wind 33-58TWh; biomass electricity 32-50TWh; marine 1TWh; biomass heat 36-50TWh; air-source and ground-source heat pumps 16-22TWh; renewable transport up to 48TWh and 'others' which includes hydro, geothermal and solar domestic heat will make up the total with 14TWh.

Wind Power

By far the largest contributor to this will be wind power. By the luck of its geography, the UK has the best wind, wave and tidal resources in Europe. Together, onshore and offshore wind currently provides enough power for over two and a half million homes in the UK. According to the statistics in the white paper, the UK is the global leader for offshore wind energy with more than 700 turbines already operational and 15 windfarms having generated over 3 TWh during 2010, and there are many more projects still under construction in Scotland and Wales. Onshore windfarms currently output 7TWh annually, so to meet their 2020 target they will have to increase this amount by 13% annually.

What about Nuclear and Solar Power?

Nuclear fuel is non-renewable, yet it fits the carbon reduction criteria because it is a 'clean' fuel and not a fossil fuel. Nuclear power is only mentioned a total of three times in the 107 page document and then only as an energy source that will be 'used alongside' renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and energy efficiency in order to help reduce UK emissions and keep the UK on target to hit its 80% cut in emissions by 2050.

But, solar energy is also only briefly mentioned. Despite it being a widely publicised technology and one that most domestic electricity users would be able to make use of, it does not figure in the top eight renewable technologies the Roadmap has focused on. It is noted only as one of the sources of the 'remaining renewable energy generation necessary to meet the 2020 target (which) will come from technologies such as hydro-power, solar PV, and deep geothermal heat and power'. In a case study presented within the document it states that Government believes Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology could potentially have a role to play in the larger-scale UK renewable energy market in the future, but only if cost reductions can be achieved to make the viability of projects non-dependent on significant subsidies. PV technology has also shown major technological advances in recent years, and with ongoing industry improvements the initial capital (or investment) costs are continuing to fall.

How to Achieve the 80% Target by 2050M

The Renewable Energy Roadmap has concluded that there are a number of areas where more help is required from Government in order to bring new technologies to the point of being viable investment opportunities for businesses. Encouraging innovation is one area where Government can help potential developers, for example, to overcome engineering challenges, therefore lowering their investment costs. An additional £50m over the next 4 years has been committed, (subject to value for money assessment), to support innovation in both offshore and marine technologies.

The planning system is another area that Government intends to reform in order to make investment in renewable technology more attractive to investors. Developers of onshore windfarms are especially concerned over the time taken for applications to be passed, the lack of apparent transparency and the inconsistency across the UK in how decisions are made as to whether an application is approved or rejected.

One of the major challenges to overcome in the planning approval rate of windfarms, for both onshore and offshore, has been that they can interfere with aviation radar systems. With most planning objections coming from civil aviation operators, (such as airports), and the Ministry of Defence, Government has noted that the impact on radar has to be reduced in order for planning to be approved and large scale construction to start. It has proved one of the most significant non-financial barriers holding back the deployment of wind energy technology.

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