WHEB Commentary

Seb Beloe

UK renewables reach important – but modest – milestone


As the UK’s share of electricity generated from renewable sources approaches 20%, Seb Beloe hails the achievement, but says there is much further to go.

The UK’s renewable energy industry received an important boost in late June when the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published the country’s latest electricity generation statistics. For the first time, nearly one fifth (19.4%) of all electricity generated in the UK during the previous quarter was from renewables.

The statistics are indeed impressive. The total amount of renewable energy generated had increased 43% over the previous 12 months. Offshore wind output increased by 52% during 2013 and solar was up 51% (though from a much smaller base).

As Robert Gross, the director of the Centre for Energy and Technology at Imperial College put it, “Even if the latest figures were helped by the mild, wet and windy weather, such a high level of renewable energy would have seemed almost inconceivable a decade ago. Renewable energy is now on a par with nuclear in terms of its importance as a power generator.”

This is undoubtedly an important milestone, but it should also be put into context. The real renewable energy leaders are Denmark, which regularly produces more renewable energy than the Danes themselves can consume (the rest being exported), Spain and even the industrial powerhouse Germany which got over 59% of its demand from solar and wind in October.

It is also important to point out that the UK has committed to sourcing 15% of its total energy – not just electricity – from renewable resources by 2020. This is a big and important difference.

In 2013 only 5.2% of final energy consumption, including heat and transport, came from renewable resources. Some models have suggested that 38% of all electricity will need to be from renewables in order to get close to the 15% of total energy target. So there is still a long way to go.

So what does this mean for investments in UK renewables? We think that it is an important ‘proof of concept’ moment. As Doug Parr the chief scientist at Greenpeace cryptically put it, “Nobody noticed the lights going off because the intermittent wind was not blowing”.

The fact that the lights did not go out, combined with the domestic source of the energy at a time of anxiety over energy security, should help to reinforce the claim that renewable energy is maturing and can play a central role in the delivery of energy at scale across the country.

So this is an important, though in all honesty still rather modest, milestone on the journey to a much lower carbon energy generation sector.

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