The demise of green power? Britain scraps investment into renewable energy post referendum
Over the last decade, the UK has been pushed by the EU to balance renewable energy generation with fossil fuel consumption, making small but significant steps towards a greener country. With goals previously set for the UK far outreaching the EU’s own (such as cutting carbon emissions by 57% by 2030 on 1990 levels) and the removal of oil fired power plants in the UK, (Global Legal Insights, 2017) Britain could be assumed as a country on their way to becoming low-carbon. Until now. Over the course of 2016, over £1bn of future investment in renewable energy projects has disappeared, amounting to over 95% of total planned expenditure (The Guardian, 2017). After the decline in subsidies for wind power farms, solar power installations and converted coal to biomass stations, consumers have been left wondering, what has happened to the UK’s renewable energy promise and how exactly will we source our power?
The closure of UK coal fired power plants
Under current environmental laws all UK coal plants will be required to close by 2025, with most predicted to retire by 2022 (The Telegraph, 2016). The only alternative option to closure of these plants would be a costly overhaul, using untested technology to minimize carbon emissions to that of 40% of current output. Expected conversion to biomass fuel stations is also less likely as the government has removed the guaranteed levels of subsidy previously offered. With most of UK electricity produced by burning fossil fuels (Energy UK, copyright 2017) replacing this energy source could put large amounts of pressure on finding new sources, or mean increasing UK energy import dependency dramatically.
Shale Gas – The great Fracking Debate
The most controversial new source of energy is Shale Gas, an untapped resource that we have an abundance of, which would mean drilling into and potentially destroying large areas of the British landscape to reach. The UK government has been building a case for fracking for years, their official site has an educational guide that describes fracking as a potentially “safe and environmentally sound” source of “energy security, growth and jobs” (Gov UK, 2017). In other corners, environmental, protest groups and political parties such as Green party have hit back; describing fracking as “toxic and radioactive” (Frack Off, 2015). This year the battle has been won and a small exploratory site in Lancashire has opened, where if predicted levels of shale gas are revealed, 10% of its output could amount to 7 years of Britain’s energy consumption, (The Telegraph, 2017) unveiling a new substantial source of UK power.
Not on my back yard – Wind Power Energy
Another controversial (though much less so) form of energy is wind power. When first discovered wind power seems like the answer to all our energy problems, a
clean source of power that could actually utilise the British weather. Conservative promises to protect the British landscape however have meant subsidies to help offset the large startup costs have stopped, putting future windfarm proposals past 2020 on hold. Plans to extend subsidies to offshore wind farms have also been scrapped due to higher costs than onshore farms, angering the hardest hit Scottish government. Currently the government doesn’t release an official statistic for the percentage of energy wind power produces in relation to our total UK use, however last year the EU reported wind power covered 10.4% of the total European consumption (Wind Europe, 2016). With Britain leaving the EU in the next two years and opting out of environmental regulations, it is unlikely the scale of investments made in recent years will continue, so further expansion of UK wind farms could drop off.
The return of Nuclear power
Although all but one of Britain’s existing nuclear energy stations are expected to close by 2023, currently there are six new nuclear projects in development, and the government has projected 14 gigawatts of nuclear capacity may be built, between now and 2035. Despite calling an end to subsidies for renewable energy sources, the government has recognized that they will need to heavily support the financial stability of these plants and made agreements for investment into its most advanced project in Hinkley.
Will Britain choose renewable or carbon energy?
Despite a promising effort over the last five years to redistribute investment into renewable energy sources, dropped subsidy schemes and lack of business and consumer incentives to reduce carbon emissions (such as the diluted road tax scheme) indicate a change in government vision on how Britain should consume energy. Although expenditure on fracking and nuclear power indicates a desire for the UK to become more reliant on its own sources, lack of plans to uphold environmental targets after Brexit reveal an ambition to do so using non-renewable energy.
Energy UK. (copyright 2017). Electricity Generation. Retrieved from Energy UK : http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/energy-industry/electricity-generation.html
Frack Off. (2015). Fracking Threat To The UK. Retrieved from Frack Off: http://frack-off.org.uk/fracking-hell/
Global Legal Insights. (2017). United Kindom Energy 2017, 5th Edition. Retrieved from Global Legal Insights: https://www.globallegalinsights.com/practice-areas/energy/global-legal-insights—energy-5th-ed./united-kingdom#chaptercontent1
Gov UK. (2017). Guidance of fracking: developing shale gas in the UK. Retrieved from Gov UK : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/about-shale-gas-and-hydraulic-fracturing-fracking/developing-shale-oil-and-gas-in-the-uk
The Guardian. (2017). Renewables investment in UK will fall 95% over next three years – study. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/04/renewables-investment-uk-fall-95-percent-three-years-study-subsidy-cuts-emissions-targets
The Telegraph. (2016). UK sets out coal plant closure plans. Retrieved from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/09/uk-sets-out-coal-plant-closure-plans/
The Telegraph. (2017). Cuadrilla Begins Work at Lancashire Fracking Site. Retrieved from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/01/05/cuadrilla-begins-work-lancashire-fracking-site/
Wind Europe. (2016). Wind Europe Annual Statistics 2016. Retrieved from Wind Europe: https://windeurope.org/wp-content/uploads/files/about-wind/statistics/WindEurope-Annual-Statistics-2016.pdf