Future of UK renewable market uncertain despite five-fold growth, experts warn
It’s been a bumper year for renewable generation in the UK – yet industry experts have warned the sector’s future remains under threat.
Figures released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show a five-fold increase in the number of power stations generating electricity from renewable sources, including wind and solar power, compared to that of a decade ago.
As of May 2017, there are 772 single-source renewable power stations currently in operation in the UK, up from 153 in 2007. Of this, approximately 342 are fuelled by wind power, compared with just 72 recorded in 2007.
In the solar sector the figures are even more impressive, with 277 solar powered plants currently in operation across the UK, all of which have opened within the last decade.
Responding to the figures, Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, says that while the UK can be proud of its achievements in promoting renewable energy generation, future success is not guaranteed.
“This is no time to rest on our laurels,” Pinchbeck said. “There is policy and investment uncertainty beyond 2020, making it harder to build the vital new infrastructure that will underpin industrial growth and emissions reduction.”
This autumn, the government is expected to unveil the delayed Clean Growth Plan, which will outline the UK’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions through the 2020s and early 2030s.
The current target is for 30 per cent of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020. Provisional figures show the number for the first three months of 2017 was 26.6 per cent – well on the way to surpassing the 30 per cent target by 2020.
However, concerns remain about what could happen in the next decade.
According to Pinchbeck, the government’s new plan will need to provide more clarity on what the energy strategy will be from 2030 and beyond and will need to implement specific measures, including, Pinchbeck said, “a smarter and more flexible grid, support for innovative technologies like energy storage and a level playing field that allows all renewables to compete for investment.”
Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) welcomed the boom in renewable power over the last decade as “a national success story”, but noted that the number of companies operating in renewable energy fell in 2016, largely due to a slowdown in the solar sector as “a direct result of policy changes” by the government.
“The government now needs to look beyond 2020 and communicate how it intends to structure the electricity market,” she says. “A timeline and budgets for new power auctions need to be clarified.”