Greenpeace have carried out a study which claims that by 2030 Britain could produce 85% of its energy via renewable sources. However, in order to achieve this, there must be major structural changes to the energy production and distribution infrastructure.
This study was commissioned with the aim of dispelling the myth that only sources such as fossil fuels and nuclear power have the capability to meet our energy needs. The report predicts a large jump in the amount of energy produced through wind farms, from today’s total of 13GW (gigawatts) to a level of 77GW by 2030. It also foresees a possible rise in solar power from just over 5GW to 28GW in the same time period.
Whilst this all sounds very promising, the expansion of renewable energy production would also have to go hand in hand with a reduction in the amount of power required for domestic heating. Insulation schemes and other power saving methods would have to be used to reduce demand in this area by 60%, according to Demand Energy Equality- the energy analysts who compiled this report.
A New Approach To Renewable Energy
The chief scientist at Greenpeace, Doug Parr, said:
“For a long time the government and the fossil fuel industry have peddled the argument that renewables can’t keep the lights on if the wind’s not blowing. This hasn’t been based on evidence, but out of date instincts seemingly from staring out the window to see how windy it is”
“For the first time, we have the evidence showing it is possible to keep the power system working and decarbonise the electricity system. We need to go for renewable energy with the help of new smart technology and reducing demand for power too.”
“It is hugely ambitious but definitely doable, and it will take the same kind of enthusiasm and financial support from government, normally the sole preserve of the nuclear and fossil fuel industries.”
For this vision to become a reality, it would require a radical change to government policy that would allow fossil fuels to be used in combined gas-fired heat and power projects. It would also necessitate a change in the public’s use of gas-fired boilers and a move towards using heating systems that are powered by electricity instead.
This study has been released with the upcoming UN climate change talks on the near horizon and shortly after the Conservative government announced that it is removing a number of green subsidies that apply to wind and solar power. There has been a debate raging for many years now about how realistic it is that we can successfully “decarbonise” the UK’s energy generation system. There are not many people that believe it is possible to completely remove carbon based energy sources from our energy production but this recent research is another step on the path to challenging that dogma.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change stated that in 2014 about 19% of the UK’s energy was generated from renewable sources. The rest of the country’s power supply is made up of 19% nuclear power, 30% coal and 30% gas. This new report has shown us that the energy industry can indeed become much less carbon based but only if we alter the way in which we approach energy at a national and household level. This would include increasing the energy efficiency of new buildings and the amount that we use smart meters.
The Cost Of Environmental Responsibility
This individual report did not investigate what the cost of this transformation would be. However, Greenpeace point to a study carried out back in 2011 for the parliamentary climate change committee that estimated a cost of between £126 billion and £227 billion. This was the price tag predicted in order to achieve 65% renewable energy by the year 2030.
Wind power would make up the bulk of the renewable energy supply and would require a huge increase in investment. The 77GW of wind energy would be split into offshore and onshore wind farm, producing 55GW and 22GW respectively. Renewable UK, a wind lobby group, stated that there is no substantial reason why more wind farms shouldn’t be built:
“There is no technical or logistical barrier to the UK installing up to 55GW by 2030, but it needs political will – a supportive policy framework from government, especially sufficient financial support allocated in the offshore wind pot”
The report was welcomed by professor of electrical engineering at the University of Strathclyde, David Infield, who said that this study was a serious piece of research and should be given due attention.
He said “This is a useful report dealing with the complex issue of absorbing high penetrations of renewable power generation in line with achieving challenging reductions in carbon emissions”.
The energy department’s approach differs to Greenpeace’s insofar as they are working on a timeframe that runs until 2050 as opposed to 2030. For this reason there are big differences in how much capital investment is seen as necessary. The Greenpeace report also leaves out nuclear power because of the environmental impact of building the plants. It also omits the potential impact of carbon capture technology because they believe it has not yet been proved to be a successful method.