Back in May, whilst the world was in lockdown battling the Covid-19 pandemic, there was some news that slipped somewhat under the radar… Britain went an entire month ‘coal-free’. This coal free period of power generation actually lasted until the 16th June, where we marked a total of 67 days without using any coal-fired power for the first time since the Industrial Revolution!
This achievement was no doubt aided by the unseasonably good weather and a reduced demand from the National Grid due to Covid-19 restrictions on schools, manufacturing plants and businesses, but, none the less, was a landmark moment for the UK in Green Energy Production. Despite being overshadowed by Covid-19, this news is a positive sign that the UK’s fossil fuel era is coming to an end and provides a tempting glimpse into what our future could hold. In this blog Procure Partnerships Key Account Manager Conor Neild-Crabb looks at the current growth of the renewable energy sector and explores its potential to not only fuel our homes and businesses, but our economic recovery as well.
Coal Fuelled Power will soon be Resigned to the History Books
As recently as 2015, coal still contributed more than 50 per cent of the power used by the grid. But, in the last few years the role of the fossil fuel in our power supply has diminished, falling steeply to a share of just 2% in 2019. With government plans to phase it out completely by 2024, it seems the days of the coal fired power station are numbered.
Interestingly, Drax have announced their intention to stop using coal ahead of the UK government deadline; by March 2021 almost 50 years of coal fired electricity generation will come to a close, furthering their intention to become carbon negative by 2030.
Andrew Mitchell, Director of Energy Services, Stroma:
“It is great news from the UK government to push for more renewables within the national grid electricity mix. Our changing generating mix over the last decade has been a good news story about which the country and the Energy industry should be more vocal. The carbon intensity for the current grid has dropped from 0.519gkCO2/kWh to 0.233kgCO2/kWh over the life of the current version of Part L of the Building Regulations. The installed renewables, mainly from offshore wind farms has reduced the emissions of the grid comparable to mains gas. This additional Government incentive aligns the goal to remove gas as a source of space and water heating within homes in order to meet the target of a Net Zero Carbon economy by 2050.”
The significant reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels is good news on many levels. Firstly of course, there is the environmental impact associated with burning coal to generate power and the high levels of CO2 produced. Decarbonisation of our energy supply is essential to achieve the ambitious UK net zero carbon emission target by 2050. But importantly, a reduction in coal fuelled power, also opens the door to other renewable sources of power and the associated technologies and manufacturing opportunities which support them. Over the period of the coal-free run, renewable energy sources made up the biggest share of the mix, generating nearly 36% of power, while gas provided around 33%, and nuclear 21%.
James Cutter, Associate Director of Energy and Sustainability, CS2 Ltd:
“The UK is going through a period of electrification which will intensify in line with the phase out of fossils fuels in business, homes and transport. This increase in demand for electricity will require a significant increase in renewable power generation, particularly via localised microgeneration systems creating and delivering at a micro level. Long term stabilisation of government policy is essential to attract wider investment; coupled with financial support from central government to increase grid capacity for renewable energy at all levels is absolutely key to meet the overall target of a ‘Zero Carbon Economy’ by 2050. Without the latter commitments in place for the next 30 years beyond the 2050 end goal, local authorities will struggle to provide Energy Security, Energy Availability and Energy Capacity to support businesses, transport, public services and homes.
It should also be noted that renewable energy is one element of a mix of solutions to move towards being Net Zero Carbon, investment in Green Energy Efficient Buildings, increasing social understanding and strategic development of infrastructures to allow electrification will be key. Work to date in renewables is so positive for the UK, we need to stay on the right path and develop beyond expectations.”
Government Support to Build Back Greener
The government has long been criticised for not pushing the Climate Change agenda at a fast-enough pace. Boris Johnson announced that as part of the efforts to ’build back greener’ and become Carbon Neutral, every home will be powered by wind farms by 2030. These new commitments are the first stage of a 10-point government plan for a “green industrial revolution”, with the rest of the details anticipated later this year.
The rapidly advancing technology and improved methods of manufacturing has seen the cost of renewable energy generation plummet. The government has admitted in their newly published report that the ‘levelised cost’ of electricity generated from wind and solar is actually 30-50% cheaper than previously reported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in 2016.
The downward trend in cost is expected to continue over the next five years, making renewable energy sources a viable and efficient alternative to fossil fuels. Commitments from the government to pursue a carbon neutral economy, and the rapidly advancing technology, makes renewable energy a more attractive and less risky investment, which will help to further support the industry and accelerate growth.
A significant benefit associated with investing in renewable energy compared to other UK infrastructure, is that the investment will stand the test of time. Over the next 40 years, the primary focus of the government must be on developing clean energy and this sector holds just as much opportunity to create jobs and kickstart the economy as any other, with the added benefit of tackling climate change at the same time.
The Renewables Industry Can Fuel Post-Covid Recovery
The current Covid-19 pandemic may have temporarily stolen the headlines, but as we emerge from the social and financial chaos, many analysts, economists and environmentalists believe that the renewable energy industry could play an important role in our economic recovery. The companies who have the technologies to harness energy from the sun, wind and sea also hold the potential to stimulate the UK’s economy by attracting critical investment and creating thousands of green jobs across the UK.
There will be many left jobless as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and we desperately need new industries to train and upskill the unemployed in a sustainable industry. The Social Market Foundation predicts that “net zero” industries, which include clean energy, electricity networks, car-charging infrastructure and energy efficiency, could help provide new jobs for many of the 1.4 million people expected to be left unemployed following the pandemic.
Keith Anderson, chief executive of Scottish Power, one of the UK’s largest renewable energy investors, described the economic and environmental advantages of investment in a green recovery as ‘aligned as never before’. Scottish Power plans to develop Scotland’s oldest commercial windfarm as part of a £150m scheme which will be capable of supplying 100,000 homes with green electricity in central Scotland. This project is part of the companies plan to develop 1,000MW of onshore wind power and battery storage and is expected to create 600 jobs at its peak, and 280 long-term jobs, which will go a long way to help local people to emerge from what is the worst economic downturn in recent times. These projects not only have the potential to funnel money back through the supply chain and into jobs, but they also help to ensure our economic recovery is based on sustainable investments which look to the future.
Heather Evans, National Head of Sustainability, RLB:
“At RLB, we have noticed the building awareness across the industry to move beyond ‘good practice’ towards innovative sustainable action. We have responded to client requirements of bespoke sustainability consultancy; focused on how they can decarbonise their existing estate and how they can further the net carbon agenda through new developments. This move towards improving sustainability has gained momentum during the pandemic, helped in part by government funding and the societal shift towards reducing our environmental impact. Our approach is to work collaboratively with clients to deliver sustainable and financially viable solutions, and energy supply is a major element in ensuring carbon reduction goals are achieved. Alongside decarbonisation of the UK energy supply, both on micro and macro scales, reduction of energy consumption remains paramount.”
The Future is Bright
As the renewables industry evolves, so must the business models of the energy corporations. There is great potential for more local control and a decentralised service operated by entities other than the specialist power corporations. Local authorities across the country are already beginning to impact the UK’s energy mix, taking action to boost renewable generation and offer more affordable solutions.
We are now moving at a much faster pace of change, and, with further commitment from the government in the forthcoming 10-stage plan and increased investor confidence, momentum is set to rapidly build in the sector. Covid-19 has certainly provided the gearshift required to not only build back better, but to build back greener and the time has never been better for the UK to take a big slice of the world’s renewable energy investment.
Adam Mactavish, Director, Currie & Brown:
“The dramatic changes in the UK energy system, and continued investment in renewables as they become our lowest cost source of new energy, provides an unparalleled opportunity to decarbonise the built environment by moving to low carbon sources of heating. It is essential that such a move is accompanied by deep cuts in the energy consumption and also in the peak demand for power if we are to minimise the impact of this transition on our power supply infrastructure. Currie & Brown’s analysis for the Committee on Climate Change showed that lifetime operational carbon reductions over 95% are possible by adoption of low carbon heating systems. For new buildings, the cost of providing this long-term future-proofing of building’s performance is only an additional few percent of the construction cost.”
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