Why is government investment in renewable energy drying up? We need more of the "green crap," not lessby Rachel Reeves / February 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the UK Climate Change Act, which committed the UK to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The government published its Clean Growth Strategy in October. This should set out plans to achieve our emissions reduction targets for the period up to 2032, but by the government’s own admission, they haven’t worked out how to fully meet the targets yet.
An independent assessment of the plan shows that urgent action is needed to fill the policy gap. In particular, action is needed on: electricity, heat, transport and carbon capture and storage.
There are some grounds for hope. The cost of renewables has been falling. On-shore wind and solar prices have fallen, for example: experts say on-shore wind could be built for £50/MWh, and several on-shore wind developers claim they no longer need subsidies. This makes on-shore wind the cheapest of the new technologies—far cheaper than the £92.50/MWh price of the new nuclear power station at Hinkley.
There’s been some progress with off-shore wind, the price of which fell to £57.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh) in September, down from £140 in 2014. But these reductions are largely down to government support.
And therein lies the problem. The 2010 coalition moved from being the “greenest government ever” to the government that wanted to “get rid of all the green crap.” Things have become worse. Last November, Greenpeace denounced the Chancellor’s Budget as “one of the least green budgets ever.” It revealed there will be no new money for renewables until 2025.
UK investment in renewables fell 56 per cent last year, and the government has effectively banned on-shore wind and large-scale solar in the UK. On-shore wind has faced local opposition, but polls show 74 per cent now support it. The UK is the windiest country in Europe and so well placed to capitalise on this cheap renewable electricity, if there is the will to do so.
No 10 has made clear its commitment to meeting the UK’s climate change targets. It has framed the Clean Growth Strategy as a positive contribution to the economy, and has put the low-carbon economy at the heart of the UK’s industrial strategy. This recognises the substantial new international trade opportunities that are developing.
We built half of Europe’s new off-shore power last year. But, unfashionable with some Brexit supporters, it hasn’t been considered for a sector deal in the Industrial Strategy, and the next round of auctions for new off-shore wind farms isn’t scheduled until 2019. We must be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the 1990s, when the UK lost out on becoming a leader in on-shore wind to Germany and Denmark, a missed opportunity that is blamed on the lack of supportive government policy.
Countries like India are now racing to install on-shore wind and solar, not because they’re environmentally friendly, but because they are the cheapest sources of electricity—cheaper even than coal. It might take a few more years for this to happen in the UK, but it’s time to embrace the economic benefits of renewables, growing our export opportunities and cutting our energy costs, rather than simply pushing aside the “green crap.”