The UK Government is on course to undershoot the EU Renewables target by a large margin. The Government is committed to achieving production of 15 per cent of final energy from renewable energy (RE) by 2020. On the basis of a good guess based on current projections of current production and future progress the Government is unlikely to achieve more than 10 per cent, quite possibly even less - this means an undershoot of at least a third.
As can be seen in Table 1, in 2012 the UK produced around 4.2 per cent of its energy from renewables. If the current annual rate of expansion of about 0.4 per cent of UK energy from renewable energy (RE) is projected forward to 2020 then the UK is likely to achieve just 7.4 per cent of its energy from renewable energy, just less than half its target. It maybe that the rate of expansion will increase in the remaining years of the target period, but this is unlikely to bring the total anywhere near the 15 per cent target. The Government seems well behind its targets on all fronts. The Government proclaims that it is still on course to reach the 15 per cent target, but this claim rests on what I would describe as a piece of, as they say in the trade, smoke and mirrors, with progress towards the target being dependent on a very rapid acceleration of renewable energy generation occurring in the last three years of the target period. However, it seems unlikely that the projected acceleration will be anything like that which the Government has projected in its 'National Renewable Energy Action Plan' (NREAP) which it lodged with the EU, as required in the legislation establishing the EU Renewables Directive that was promulgated in 2009.
Table One NREAP for the UK - indicative targets and actual achievement in per cent of total energy
The Government expects to achieve a large slice of its target from generating renewable heat. Indeed, in its low carbon plan published in 2011 it projected 72 TWh per year as coming from renewable heat in buildings by 2020. In 2012 DECC figures say around 15 TWh of renewable heat was generated. However, the latest figures from DECC (May 2014) suggest that not much more than 1 TWh is being generated from renewable heat as a result of the government renewable heat incentive policies which it began in 2011. This figure is increasing, but few outside government seem to think it will rise to the sort of levels demanded by the Government targets. The Guardian covered this subject in March, and included the following passage:
"We have to ramp up renewable heat to meet our carbon budget," said David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change. However, he said a whole suite of policies were needed to encourage take up of renewable heat; the RHI subsidy was simply too small to create a mass market on its own.' See http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/will-uk-warm-renewable-heat
The 10 per cent of transport fuel from renewables target may not be attained - progress has stalled in real terms, and only appeared to increase in the last period because of a change in the way the statistics were calculated. As DECC said about the 'increase':
'This increase was a result of the introduction of double counting which provided further support for the most sustainable biofuels derived from wastes' See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/second-progress-report-on-the-promotion-and-use-of-energy-from-renewable-sources-for-the-united-kingdom, page 2
Government projections of 30 per cent of electricity being obtained from RE by 2020 also seem unlikely to be met, although really we would need more like 50 per cent of electricity from renewables to come within even a respectable distance away from reaching the EU target given the shortfall in other sectors.
NOTE! The EU target is for FINAL ENERGY consumption, not electricity consumption! This is a frequent source of confusion. Electricity production/consumption counts for about one sixth of total UK final energy consumption. Hence whilst we will get a lot more than 15 per cent of electricity from renewables, this will be a long way short of getting 15 per cent of total energy from renewables.
With only around 8GWe of offshore wind likely to be deployed by then added to just under 14 GWe of onshore wind and around 4 GWe of solar pv, and taking into account a further (since 2012) probably 3.7 GWe of coal fired capacity converted to be fuelled by biomass, we can expect around 26 per cent of UK electricity supplied from renewable energy in 2020. See some projections in Table 2 calculated in terms of TWh of electricity production.
Table 1 Likely annual RE production by end of 2020
Offshore wind 25
Onshore wind 32
Solar pv 4
Total RE production 108
UK electricity production 370
% RE in 2020 26 per cent
The failure to reach the UK’s EU target has little or nothing to do with the availability of RE – for example there is a copious cheap onshore quantities of wind and solar resource – but it does have a lot to do with changes in policies. This includes ‘rationing’ of money available to RE generators (from consumer energy bills) to top up the payments they received for the energy they produce that was a consequence of the ‘Levy Control Framework’ (LCF) that was introduced in 2011, and also the Treasury’s decision, in the last budget, not to increase the carbon floor price. This failure meant that the money available under LCF will not be able to fund as many projects as if the carbon floor price had been increased in line with previous policy (announced in 2010). Eric Pickels’s much publicised action to ‘clamp down’ on onshore wind and ground mounted solar farms will not, in practice, do much to reduce the quantity of RE deployed, for the simple reason that the Treasury will not allow enough money to be spent to deploy the schemes already given planning consent.
It is true that there are declines in costs of onshore wind and solar pv, but such gains are counterbalanced by the fact that wholesale electricity prices are falling, meaning that the amount of money allowed to be spent on to support renewables from consumer energy bills will have to go further to support a given renewable energy output.
One solution to all of this that clearly appeals to many people in the UK is to withdraw from the EU. Good news for UKIP, bad news for the planet.