According to the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC), the UK government’s plans for meeting renewable generation targets in 2020 are unlikely to achieve their goal as things stand currently.
The government’s aim is to have 15% of the UK’s energy needs met by renewable sources by 2020, as part of the European Union’s climate change initiative. The commitments made through the EU will still stand for the UK, despite the Brexit vote, but the ECC has warned that without revision to the current trajectory, we will fail to make good on them.
In order to meet the 15% target, the government is aiming for 30% of the UK’s electricity needs to be met by various renewable and lower-carbon generators, and for 10% and 12% of the energy used in transport and heating respectively to come from similarly green sources.
As of 2015, 22.31% of the UK’s electricity, 5.64% of energy used for heating, and 4.23% of the energy used in transport, comes from renewable sources. Despite ostensible efforts in working towards the 2020 targets, the amount of energy for transport generated by renewable sources in 2015 was actually lower than the 4.93% recorded in 2014.
The ECC is chaired by the SNP’s Angus MacNeil, who said: “The experts we spoke to were clear: the UK will miss its 2020 renewable energy targets without major policy improvements. Failing to meet these would damage the UK’s reputation for climate change leadership. The government must take urgent action on heat and transport to renew its efforts on decarbonisation.”
Meeting electricity needs using renewable sources presents less of a challenge than doing to the same for transport and heating – since wind farms and solar farms can, relatively straightforwardly, generate power to send to the grid. Transport is tougher, since the vast majority of motor vehicles run on fossil fuels, and to de-carbonise the road would take monumental effort. Further, biofuels, often presented as a more environmentally friendly form of fuel for motor vehicles, have their own issues – not only has the extent of their carbon-neutrality been questioned, but they can also lead to large scale deforestation in order to source the requisite raw materials. Similarly, decarbonising heating brings logistical issues in terms of mass-installation of the necessary pumps, for example.
The ECC argues that the government has been wrong-headed in focusing on the roll-out of ground source heat pumps instead of on the use of biomass, which they argue is more effective.
The report explained: “The government’s proposed reforms to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) are not the optimal pathway to the 2020 renewable heat target. Heat pumps have proven unsatisfactory in actual use, yet are being prioritised over biomass—which has been successful.”
The committee did argue that the abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the merging of responsibilities in the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, could be a good thing in terms of reworking efforts towards meeting the 2020 targets, as it presents an opportunity for revision of current plans.