UK Could Fall Behind In Renewables Without Clarity


Energy has become quite a political hot potato in the face of rising energy costs and global uncertainty for energy assurance. Renewable energy has tended to be relegated to the side when national energy issues are raised but now a collaborative effort by national renewable energy associations, and spearheaded by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) have developed a manifesto designed to have renewable energy as a major policy decider in the 2015 elections.

The next government will be responsible for the UK succeeding, or failing, in meeting its 2020 renewable energy targets. It could also be the government that turns the budding renewable energy industry into the main economic engine for creating jobs and growth in the energy sector and reducing the UK’s reliance on imported fossil fuels.

The REA has set out a blueprint for the next government, outlining the key ‘manifesto asks’ for all the REA’s technologies across renewable heating, power and transport fuels. A common theme across all sectors is the need for clear, stable policy. Matched with ambitious government plans, this will create jobs, investment and growth, and help the UK catch up in the global clean energy race.

Renewables come from the wind, sun and the rain. From the energy crops, sewage, wood, food and farm waste we grow. They are essential to combat climate change, replacing carbon-emitting coal and gas with low and no carbon power, and directly tackle the global warming that has lead to destructive extreme weather. Providing 15% of Britain’s electricity today, renewables are set to provide nearly a third by 2020. And renewables will deliver 15% of the UK’s total energy needs by 2020. That’s 15% of all our heat, transport and electricity coming from renewables. And that could double by 2030.

Renewables are based on new and exciting technologies that are steadily getting cheaper for consumers. For example the cost of solar power has fallen by 65% during this Parliament. Renewables cost each household 71p a week, but provide more and more insurance against soaring bills when gas and oil prices surge due to an uncertain world. Whether through gas shocks from Russia or oil shocks from the Middle East, renewables can protect businesses and consumers from gloabl changes.

Diverse sources

Renewable energy comes in many forms. We receive energy when the wind blows, the sun shines and when the tide comes in and out. But we can also generate electricity, fuel and heat at any time from sustainable supplies of forest and farm products, sewage and food waste. Biomass electricity and biogas can heat our homes, power our vehicles and keep the lights on when consumers want, assuring year-round security of supply.

Renewables are also creating new industries and jobs in home-grown energy. They have the clear objective of steadily reducing costs as they become mature technologies, and are determined not just to be environmentally beneficial, but also to be the cheapest source of energy, outcompeting gas, coal and nuclear on price. Overall, renewables are responsible for 100,000 direct jobs. Turnover in wind, wave and tidal power alone has nearly trebled in three years to £8.1 billion.

Much of this growth has been concentrated in small businesses, which are growing by leaps and bounds. This is helping to diversify the energy industry, and is providing more choice and competition for consumers. The creation of new renewables industries brings enormous opportunities which British small businesses are grasping: much of the increase in turnover is among energy suppliers, contractors, and machine makers who employ fewer than 100 people. In the wind and marine sectors over 80% of businesses have 250 employees or less, with half of all companies employing fewer than 25 people.

The growth of renewables makes Britain more self-reliant, capable of generating much more of our own electricity and gas without dependence on imports or even the national grid. Decentralised energy – where consumers and communities produce much of their own power -has great potential. We aim to make every British community a power station.

Combined efforts

Action for Renewables combines all the leading organisations that represent this growing sector, which are jointly calling for a new commitment to respect the Climate Change Act passed with the support of all three main parties. We ask for a pledge to respect the recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change, set up under the Act. In particular, the target for low and no carbon electric power by 2030 should be accepted to provide certainty for investors and lower costs of investment for consumers. To continue the rapid growth of renewable energy, we believe that the Government should reaffirm the national UK target for 15 per cent of our energy to come from renewables in 2020 and set a more ambitious target for 2030. The goal should be to set as a legally-binding requirement to meet at least 30 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2030.

The industry is now at a tipping point where greater certainty for investors will reap enormous rewards. Far from costing more subsidies, this firm commitment will ensure that renewables becomes the cost effective choice in a low carbon economy. Onshore wind and solar will be competitive even with environmentally damaging coal and gas by 2020. And the industry wants to see all renewables competing in an open market by 2030, where carbon-emitting energy pays for the environmental damage it causes.

The British government should back EU-wide efforts to reform the emissions trading scheme, so that the costs of carbon emissions are properly reflected in the market price of energy. In particular, the system of allowances must be tightened to ensure that the EU stays on track with its goals of a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The EU has played a vital and pioneering role in tackling global climate change, and Britain must continue to show leadership within the EU and on the wider world stage.

Industry reactions

Commenting on the manifesto REA Chief Executive Dr Nina Skorupska said, “From clean power infrastructure to Zero Carbon Homes and from heat networks to sustainable transport, this is the most comprehensive guide a government could wish for if they’re seeking to maximise the value of this young, vibrant and innovative industry.

“Looking forward to 2020, the manifesto sets out how the next elected Government can keep up the progress on renewable electricity, and accelerate the roll-out of renewable heating technologies and transport fuels. Certainty beyond 2020 is also vital to enable industry to invest in innovation, expansion, skills and supply chains."

The incumbent Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey was positive on the announcement of the manifesto and said, “In Government the Liberal Democrats have more than doubled renewable energy generation thanks to investment in the sector. We have been at the forefront of reforming the electricity market to help cut bills which is crucial to building a fairer society. And that’s not all, as part of creating a stronger economy, we are on target to produce 250,000 green jobs across the UK by 2020.

“But we want to do even more and introduce a legally binding decarbonisation target to green our electricity and boost renewable heating. The Liberal Democrats are looking ahead to a greener and reformed energy market, which benefits the consumer and puts the environment first.

“Pioneering work by the Renewable Energy Association’s members is vital to achieving these goals."

MPs have already been presented with copies of the REA Manifesto at a series of breakfast seminars. The REA Manifesto builds on the Action for Renewables campaign launched earlier,which sets six top line key asks for the next government.

Tim Waterfield, head of operations at Savills Energy, echoed calls for clarity on energy policy to the 2015 general election and beyond and said, “The REA’s call for clarity and certainty over our future energy policy is one that we welcome. Indeed, it is something that Savills Energy has been calling for throughout the radical changes to the energy landscape that have taken place over the past two years. Experience across the UK and wider European energy landscape clearly demonstrates that delays and policy uncertainty have a significant impact on investment.

“We are now in a situation where our energy security is finely balanced. Risk in energy supplies affects every aspect of our economy and it is clear that whoever comes to power in 2015 needs to show clear leadership to drive the evolution in our energy mix forward with confidence. This will encourage much-needed investment in our long-term energy requirements.

“Ultimately, energy is too critical an issue to become a political football; it is clear that change needs to happen and happen quickly in order to secure the future prosperity of our country. In order to meet the legally binding target of 15% of our energy to be met by renewables by 2020, policy certainty is crucial."

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