EU Reaches a Significant Milestone as Renewables Become their Biggest Source of Electricity


Renewable Energy sources such as Wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated more electricity than fossil fuels in the European Union in the first six months of 2020. According to a new report, renewables dominated the electricity market by producing 40% of the 27 member states’ electricity overtaking fossil fuels which accounted for just 34%.

Ember, the London based climate think-tank focused on accelerating the global electricity transition, believe this was largely due to an increase in new solar and wind installations assisted to some extent by favourable weather conditions and the Covid-19 shutdowns.

Ember’s report notes:

“This was driven by new wind and solar installations and favourable conditions during a mild and windy start to the year.”

Electricity demand fell by 7% during the Covid-19 shutdowns and renewables fared better than fossil fuels during this period with a sharp increase in electricity generated from renewables. Fossil fuels suffered from the fall in electricity demand with coal and gas generation dropping by 18% overall to make up just over a third of the bloc’s overall electricity share. Gas generation fell by 6% with declines registered in 11 countries, including significant drops in Spain and Italy.

As a direct result of this, carbon emissions from the EU’s power sector fell by almost a quarter in the same period, a 23% drop, noted in Ember’s report.


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During the first half of 2020, wind and solar contributed to 22 per cent of Europe’s electricity generation. Some European countries did even better than this. In Denmark, 64% of electricity was generated from wind and solar, in Ireland, 49% and in Germany, 42%.

This is the first time ever that renewables have become Europe’s main generators of electricity eclipsing the electricity share generated by gas and coal. Ember calculated that this amounts to an increase of 11% by renewables in the period between January and June.

Dave Jones, a senior electricity analyst at Ember, said:

“This marks a symbolic moment in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector.”

He said that only nine years ago coal and gas far outstripped the renewables sector, then in its infancy. In fact, fossil fuels generated twice as much electricity as renewables at that point in time.

Every member state with coal assets saw a fall in coal generation laying bare the stark reality for Europe’s ailing coal power sector. Coal has been most impacted by the fall with fossil-fuel power generation falling in every country where it was part of the electricity mix.

According to Ember’s study, Portugal saw a staggering 95% drop in coal generation, experiencing extended periods of coal-free power over the period which led to the shutdown of coal-fired power plants being brought forward. In Spain coal generation dropped by 58% even before half of its coal plants closed in June amid Covid-19 lockdown measures. At the same time, Germany’s coal power generation also fell by 39% as the country’s share of wind and solar penetration soared to 42%. The pace of change is varying from country to country.

It appears that coal is being phased out across the whole of the EU with Poland becoming Europe’s biggest coal generator after Germany.

Dave Jones warned that even though there was a broad trend away from coal power, the pace of change was “not equal” across the EU bloc.

Ember’s report said:

“For the first time ever, Germany generated less coal-fired electricity than Poland. Coal also fell in other countries faster than Poland, so that Poland now generates as much coal generation as the remaining 25 EU countries combined.”

Germany without a doubt saw the biggest fall in coal-fired electricity being the most impacted by the reduction in demand due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Poland does not have a timeline for phasing out coal and is the only member state yet to sign up to the EU’s 2050 carbon neutrality target. It also has the second most expensive electricity in Europe after Greece. Furthermore, Poland, as one of the most affected by the drop in electricity demand, announced a bailout plan for its coal mining sector, which is currently suffering from falling demand, cheaper alternatives and accumulated financial losses.

Dave Jones said that the EU’s €750bn Covid-19 economic recovery package which was endorsed recently by the European Council could be a clear way out of coal for countries such as Poland and the EU’s third largest coal generator Czechia. He would like to see the EU using the opportunity afforded by its combined €1.8 trillion seven-year budget and recovery package to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels so that it can meet its climate ambition.

He thinks that though wind and solar have increased that it’s not enough to reach the level that is needed by 2030 and that the EU should increase its 2030 target to reduce emissions by 55% from 1990 levels – up from 40% now – by deploying two to three times more wind per year in the 2020s than it has over the last decade.

He said:

“Europe’s Next Generation recovery deal can help countries fast-track their coal to clean transition by using stimulus spending to immediately step up wind and solar investment, and an expanded Just Transition Fund to move away from coal.”

Dave Jones told Climate Home News that renewable sources overtaking fossil fuels in electricity generation had been “inevitable” after wind and solar generated more electricity than coal in 2019. He believes that Covid-19 has probably expedited the takeover by a couple of years and that this trend will continue even if the pandemic significantly slows down new wind and solar installations in 2020.

He said:

“Every year more renewables are coming online. This is not a one-off, it’s not going to switch back.”

Finland’s LUT University has developed a 100% renewable energy scenario predicting that electricity could make up 85% of the EU’s energy mix by 2050, more than 60% of which would be generated by solar panels.

New Solar Cell Technology Could Revolutionise the Industry

Solar Panel Manufacture

Scientists are constantly investigating ways of improving the efficiency of solar PV.

Recently there have been two major developments in solar cell technology that could greatly improve the way energy is harvested from the sun.

Scientists say that the two studies which have been published in Nature Energy and Nature Photonics, will transform the efficiency, and significantly reduce the cost of producing solar cells. Thanks to a new technology the amount of energy that can be harvested from ‘invisible light’ and used in solar cells has been given a serious boost.

Scientists at the RMIT University and UNSW University in Australia and the University of Kentucky in the United States have discovered a way to turn low energy light into heavy energy light that can be captured by solar cells using ‘oxygen’ as a key ingredient.

This first breakthrough by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science and UNSW Sydney, involves ‘upconverting’ low energy, non-visible light into high energy light so that more electricity can be generated from the same amount of sunlight. This will allow solar power arrays to generate more electricity making them far more efficient.

Professor Tim Schmidt from UNSW Sydney, said:

“The energy from the sun is not just visible light. The spectrum is broad, including infrared light which gives us heat and ultraviolet light which can burn our skin. Most solar cells are made from silicon, which cannot respond to light less energetic than the near infrared. This means that some parts of the light spectrum are going unused by many of our current devices and technologies.”

This energy is referred to as “invisible energy’ because it is invisible to the solar cell. Photovoltaic cells or crystalline silicon cells only absorb light in the visible region.


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The technique used involves tiny semiconductors known as quantum dots which are nanoscale man-made crystals, absorbing the low energy light and molecular oxygen turning it into visible light to capture the energy.

Usually oxygen has an adverse effect on molecular excitons, but at such low energies its role changes and it can mediate energy transfer. This lets the organic molecules emit visible light above the silicon band gap.

Contributing author Professor Jared Cole of RMIT University, explained that more often than not things work well without oxygen and stop working when you do use it.

The Molecular Photonics Laboratories at UNSW Sydney Credit: UNSW Sydney/Exciton Science

He said:

‘It was the Achilles heel that ruined all our plans, but now, not only have we found a way around it, suddenly it helps us.’

The process of turning low energy light into more energetic, visible light can excite the silicon in many solar panels. Tim Schmidt explains that you can do this by capturing multiple smaller energy photons of light and gluing them together. This is achieved by interacting the excitons – the bound states of electrons and electron holes that transport energy without net charge – in organic molecules.  

Until now, this had never been achieved beyond the silicon band gap, which is the minimum energy that is required to excite an electron in silicon up to a state where it can participate in conduction. 

Tim Schmidt, said:

“Most solar cells, charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras and photodiodes (a semiconductor that converts light into electrical current) are made from silicon, which cannot respond to light less energetic than the near infrared. This means that some parts of the light spectrum are going unused by many of our current devices and technologies.”

However, according to Tim Schmidt, the new technology is still fairly inefficient so is not ready for commercial applications yet, but scientists have strategies to improve this in the near future.

Tim Schmidt, said:

“This is an early demonstration, and there’s quite a lot of development needed to make commercial solar cells, but this shows us it’s possible.”

Lead author Elham Gholizadeh, of UNSW Sydney, is still optimistic about the potential of the work to make a rapid positive impact on the research field.

She says:

“As this is the first time, we’ve been successful with this method, we will face some challenges. But I’m very hopeful and think that we can improve the efficiency quickly. I think it’s quite exciting for everyone. It’s a good method to use oxygen to transfer energy. Violanthrone doesn’t have the perfect photoluminescence quantum yield so the next step will be to look for an even better molecule.”

Scientists have created a next generation of solar modules that are more efficient and stable than the current commercial solar cells which are made of silicon in a second breakthrough for the industry using a type of material called perovskites.

As well as being flexible and lightweight, solar cells made from perovskites are also cheaper to produce. The main problem with the material until now is that it is difficult to scale up to create solar panels that are several metres in length.

Dr Luis Ono, a co-author of the study, said:

“Scaling up is very demanding. Any defects in the material become more pronounced so you need high-quality materials and better fabrication techniques.”

Scientists have found a new approach now by making use of multiple layers to prevent energy being lost or toxic chemicals from leaking as it degrades.

Testing on a small scale has shown that a module measuring 22.4cm can achieve an efficiency of 16.6% which is a very high efficiency for a module of that size, while maintaining a high level of performance even after 2,000 hours of constant use.

The plan now is for the researchers to test their techniques on larger solar modules with the hope that the technology can be commercialised in the future.

The sun is a powerful source of clean reusable energy to power our world. What’s more this energy is free and does not create pollution.

The future of solar PV continues to be one of intense research and development. It is foreseen that the role of PV in the generation of electricity will overtake other forms of renewable energy and that 50 % of all new buildings will incorporate PV in their design

Transport for London Looks to Renewables to Power London’s Tube Network

TFL London Transport

London’s tube network could soon be entirely powered by renewable energy directly bought from wind and solar farms.

London’s Mayor, Sadiq Kahn has revealed plans to change the way that the Transport for London (TfL) Tube network is supplied with electricity. The move towards a greater use of renewable energy has been in the offing for some time now, part of the plan being to make the city’s famous rail network zero-emissions by 2030, but also to have the whole city become carbon neutral by 2050. The decision by the London Mayor was welcomed by environmental organisations including Greenpeace and the Renewable Energy Association.

Unsurprisingly, Transport for London (TfL) is London’s biggest electricity consumer but beyond that it is also one of the largest consumers of electricity in the UK. It uses 1.6TWh every year which is an annual power demand equivalent to that used by more than 437,000 average homes or approximately 12% of all households in the capital. The Tube alone consumes 1.2TWh each year and that does not include, buses, trams and Overground trains that make up the whole network.


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City Hall said recently that the publication to market of TfL’s renewable electricity requirements was a positive step forward and marked a significant moment in its ambition to operate a zero-emission underground train system in the UK capital by 2030.

All passenger rail services operated by TfL are electrically powered and the mayor has set TfL the objective to achieve a zero-carbon railway by 2030 as part of the London Environment Strategy.

Currently TfL sources electricity directly from the National Grid via the Crown Commercial Service. Rather than being supplied by the mix of clean and fossil fuel generators offered via the National Grid the aim is to test the market for securing TfL’s electricity through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with renewables generators which could supply power directly from wind and solar projects. The use of clean energy would prevent the emission of carbon into the atmosphere.

A study was conducted recently by British Business Energy which calculated that 200 wind turbines or 5.6 million solar panels would be needed to power the network completely on renewables for one year. That number of solar panels would take up the same amount of space as the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

As it stands 16 percent of the electricity used to power the operation of the underground already comes from renewables. It is of course totally impractical to fill the centre of London with wind turbines to make up the rest so instead London City Hall has released the Undergrounds energy requirements in order to be able to purchase the electricity from renewable energy suppliers.

The mayor wants to make sure that the energy used to power London’s rail network makes sense financially in the long-term and that it originates from clean sources especially with the financial challenges facing TfL in the current economic climate.

TfL will take a phased approach to the changes with their initial ambition being to purchase up to 10 percent of the Network’s power demand via renewable PPAs by spring 2022, subject to market approval from its Finance Committee. Their ultimate aim is to contract 100 per cent by the end of the decade.

The Market testing will investigate all elements of the PPAs so that TfL can secure a good deal for London. City Hall is looking to expand the use of renewable energy to its entire estate. To this end the potential for meeting the Greater London Authority group’s wider demand for renewable electricity will also be looked at. This makes up a total of 143 GWh which includes Greater London Authority (GLA), London Fire Commissioner (LFC), Transport for London (TfL), Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and Old Oak Common and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC).

The mayor’s office is exploring what opportunities are available to meet London’s wider public sector electricity demand with renewables, such as solar PV, including local authority offices, schools, and leisure centres. Added together these organisations, along with the GLA group consume around 3TWh of electricity every year, or the equivalent to over 820,000 homes, which is almost a quarter of all London households.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn said:

“As one of the single biggest purchasers of energy in London, it is important that TfL leads the way on green energy. This is a vital step towards my ambitions for TfL and London to be zero-carbon by 2030. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact but as we recover, we want to make sure that we build a better, greener, and more equal city. This work to secure cost-effective and renewable energy for the rail network, with ambitions to include the wider GLA group and beyond, will play a key role in London’s green recovery and accelerating action on the climate emergency.”

Chief executive of renewable energy trade body the REA, Dr Nina Skorupska, is pleased with the move by TfL to scope out the PPA market, which she believes will help to decarbonise the Tube network and lower its energy costs. It is one of a number of initiatives underway at TfL.

She said:

“This is a major step forward for both the low-carbon transport and power sectors, and we hope to see other London boroughs also getting involved.”

These are the latest steps taken in an effort to decarbonise the capital’s energy and transport use. It may not be generally known but since earlier this year waste heat from the London Underground network has been providing heating and hot water to more than 1,350 homes, a school, and two leisure centres in Islington thanks to a pioneering energy centre at Bunhill.

Sadiq Kahn said:

“This work to secure cost-effective and renewable energy for the rail network, with ambitions to include the wider [Greater London Authority] group and beyond, will play a key role in London’s green recovery and accelerating action on the climate emergency.”

Chief safety, health and environment officer at TfL, Lilli Matson said:

“As one of the largest electricity consumers in the UK, we have a duty to explore fully the contribution that renewable energy can make to running our services. This early market engagement will help us better understand generator preferences, their impact on price and their ability to decarbonise our future power requirements.”

As things stand at the moment almost half of UK businesses are working remotely due to Covid-19 and it is possible that commuting may never return to what it was before the crisis. Many people have got used to more flexible working hours and 45% of people are expecting to have more flexibility in their work hours after lockdown ends. If 45% of London’s commuters were to stay at home and continue to work remotely in the future it would save over 460KWh of electricity which equates with powering 46,000 homes in the capital every day.

Relaxation of Planning rules to Triple UK Energy Storage Capacity

outdoor large battery storage

The UK government has announced the relaxation of planning laws to make it easier to construct large batteries for the storage of renewable energy. The UK Energy Department BEIS (department for business, energy, and industrial strategy) hopes that the change in the law will triple the UK’s energy storage capacity.

The UK currently has more than 13.5GW of battery storage projects in the pipeline, with 1.3GW ready to build, 5.7GW with planning permission and a further 6.5GW proposed. The solar industry has welcomed the move to exempt large-scale energy projects from the national planning scheme. Planning laws had threatened to stifle a nationwide battery boom. The new policy gives a significant boost to a fast expanding economy by allowing developers to avoid all the red tape and higher costs associated with finding your way around the national planning system. Previously, planning laws could add 18 months to a project’s development time frame as well as increasing the costs. Electricity storage with a capacity of 50MW or more except pumped hydro has been removed from the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime in England and Wales. These batteries could not only help the UK to make the most of its renewable energy resources but could help it to work towards its climate targets.

Following a consultation in January 2019 the government proposed keeping the planning laws in place for battery storage which led many developers to limit standalone projects to 50MW and also impacted co-located generation and storage projects. However, by October of the same year listening to warnings from the industry that investment would be stifled, and costs driven higher they decided to reverse their decision.

Large-scale battery developers will now be able to apply for permission to build their energy storage projects using local planning rules, which are faster and not so difficult to manage. Progress through the Town and Country Planning act for projects over 50MW should now only take between eight to sixteen weeks.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth, said:

“The key to capturing the full value of renewables is in ensuring homes and businesses can still be powered by green energy even when the sun is not shining, or the wind has stopped blowing.”

The government admitted in a statement that its previous rules had actively deterred developers from making ‘bolder investments’ in battery storage adding that the new policy could support the rollout of storage cells that are five times bigger than those currently used.


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Kwasi Kwarteng said:

“Removing barriers in the planning system will help us build bigger and more powerful batteries, creating more green-collar jobs and a smarter electricity network.”

In the future, batteries are expected to play a far greater role in the UK energy system as the UK relies more on renewable energy and flexible energy use to help balance the grid without the use of fossil fuels.

Batteries could have a very positive impact for the UK by helping to save the National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO) up to £40bn by 2050, which would mean less pressure on household energy bills.

Kayte O’Neill, the head of markets at National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), said:

“How we operate Great Britain’s grid is changing, with record levels of renewable sources generating our power. Storage can help us make the most of this green energy, using it to manage peaks and troughs in demand and operate the electricity system as efficiently as possible, keeping costs down for consumers too.”

The Electricity Storage Network also recognised the importance of this change seeing the potential for developers to save time and money as well as giving them the incentive to plan more ambitious storage projects which are vital to decarbonising the UK’s electricity system.

Madeleine Greenhalgh, policy lead at (ESN), said:

“This is a significant, positive and well-timed decision from the government; encouraging larger storage projects to come forward will add more jobs and economic benefit to the green recovery.”

Chief executive Chris Hewett of the Solar Trade Association (STA) one of the many companies and organisations who welcome the new policy, thinks that the next steps to unlocking the potential of energy storage, is to provide greater access to flexibility markets, including the capacity market, and applying fairer network charging rules.

Jake Dunn, renewable development manager at the leading European energy company Vattenfall, said:

“The UK will never be free from fossil-fuels until electricity storage is part of our energy system, but the volumes of power we need to be able to store are huge. However, it’s crucial that storage is co-located at solar and wind farm sites, due to the significant logistical and cost benefits that co-location offers for grid connections and land.”

The renewable energy industry understands that the planning law changes are vital and is ready to embrace the future with added vigour realising that there is still much to do in order to fully decarbonise.

Renewable Energy Agency policy head Frank Gordon added:

“Whilst this is a positive development, we must remember that there are a matrix of changes that need to be made to the way our grids and energy system are managed if we are to fully decarbonise. We welcome other recent announcements to this end, including the regulator’s proposal to increase the allowable spending by the Electricity System Operator so that they can develop their control room to fully capture the benefits of a more local and dynamic system.”

Heat Pump Market to Benefit from Green Homes Grant

Green Homes Scheme - Heat Pumps

A First Look at the UK Government’s New Green Homes Grant

During the government’s long-awaited summer economic statement, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced that homeowners and landlords in England will be able to apply for up to £5,000 per household and up to £10,000 for low income households under the 2bn green homes grant to make their properties more energy efficient. These green vouchers could potentially save homeowners hundreds of pounds on their energy bills each year.

The new policy is part of the government’s economic recovery plan to create up to 140,000 green jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The 2bn Green Homes Grant is part of a £3bn ‘green investment’ package. The announcement is not only a welcome boost for employment but goes some way towards helping the UK to reach its zero-carbon goal by reducing carbon emissions.


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Chancellor Rishi Sunak said:

“Our Green Home Grant will not only cut families’ bills by making their homes more energy-efficient, It will also kick-start our economy by creating thousands of green jobs and supporting those skilled tradespeople who are ready to work.”

In addition to the Green Homes Grant, a £1 billion programme will make public buildings, including schools and hospitals, greener, helping to achieve net-zero by 2050. Funding of £50m will go to pilot schemes to retrofit social housing at scale, with measures including insulation, double glazing, and heat pumps.

At the moment what we do know about the grant is that eligible homeowners will be able to use the scheme to help pay for energy efficient improvements which could include the installation of loft, floor and wall insulation, double or triple glazed windows, eco-friendly boilers, heat pumps, low energy lighting and energy efficient doors. The grant should cover as much as two thirds and in some cases all of the cost. Once the scheme is in operation you will have to apply for a voucher which you will then be able to spend to improve your home.

For the majority of homeowners, the vouchers will be worth about two-thirds of the cost of energy efficient improvements up to a maximum of £5,000 per household. To give an example the Treasury says that a homeowner installing cavity wall and floor insulation costing £4,000 would only pay about £1,320, with the Government contributing the remaining £2,680 through the voucher scheme.

Those homeowners on low income will be able to receive more. In fact, the government may cover the full cost of the energy efficient improvements up to £10,000. The Treasury hopes the Green Homes Grant will help pay for improvements in over 600,000 homes across England. The funding has been set aside to be spent in one financial year and it is claimed that about half of it will go to low income households.

The full details about what is included in the new scheme and how it will work are not yet available. The scheme is due to be launched in September and homeowners will be able to apply online at this point. The website will illustrate what energy efficient measures the vouchers can be used for. Once a supplier has provided a quote and the work has been approved, a voucher will be issued. No indication has been given yet for how long it will take for an application to be approved and a voucher issued. However, it would be advisable to do your homework now and look at what options are both the most energy efficient and affordable for you.

Though details of the scheme are still scant the impression given by the chancellor was that there would be no income qualifying on getting the main vouchers.

Martin Lewis, founder of said:

“I’ve been told there won’t be any income qualifying on getting the main vouchers, so every homeowner and landlord is likely to be eligible. However, whether every home will qualify is still up in the air. With the Green Deal you had to have a pre-qualifying inspection and the inspectors decided what your home was suitable for. My totally unsubstantiated guess is that it is likely there will be some form of pre-qualification assessment here. It may also be that they dictate what your house needs. For example, for those wanting double-glazing, you may be told that it needs to be part of a package with floor installation.”

The Green Deal was a similar type of scheme a few years ago from the coalition government.

UK landlords were pleased to receive the news about the government’s new Green Homes Grant and that they will be able to apply for vouchers to help fund the cost of energy improvements to their rental properties.

Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said:

“Improving the energy efficiency of rental housing is good news for tenants, landlords and local economies. We encourage all landlords to make use of this as it will mean housing standards are improved, tenants will save money and it will reduce carbon emissions across the whole sector.”

Viessmann UK, a German manufacturer of heating, industrial, and refrigeration systems has welcomed the move by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. The Green Homes Grant has the potential to stimulate the heat pump market which is essential for the decarbonisation of housing.

Darren McMahon, Viessmann UK Marketing Director said:

“We know the government wants UK homeowners to switch from fossil-fuelled boilers to renewable technologies such as heat pumps, to achieve carbon reduction targets. Yet many properties require significant investment in home improvements, such as insulation, before low temperature heating systems can provide expected levels of comfort while running in an energy-efficient way.”

The Green Homes Grant takes into account both the need for home improvements such as insulation to prevent energy loss and low temperature heating systems to reduce carbon emissions. It advocates a ‘fabric first’ approach recognising that the best way to save energy in the home is to reduce heat loss. It will also contribute to or cover the cost of the heat pump to make sure that the overall heating system is efficient. Viessman believe that the grant will encourage consumers to consider purchasing heat pumps if they are more affordable.

This is in line with the government’s announcement in 2019 that the installation of fossil fuel heating systems such as gas boilers would no longer be allowed in any homes built after 2025.

Ben Dyer, CEO, and co-founder of Powered Now, a back-office solution for tradespeople was among the first to respond positively to the government announcement.

He said:

 “At a time like this, tradespeople need as much support as possible, and by kick-starting home improvements, this is almost certainly set to help. Homeowners need the incentive to help bring traders back into their home and schemes like this that will save them money in the medium term for a reduced price will help to achieve this.”

Angela McGinlay, MD of Daikin though pleased with the government’s pledges believing the scheme will give homeowners an incentive to research renewable alternatives to fossil fuel heating, such as heat pumps, is of the view that government policy will have to go much further.

She said:

“With the planned phase out of fossil fuel boilers from new homes after 2025 this package was needed to provide a boost to the much-needed reduction of carbon emissions from the UK’s existing housing stock.

But if the government is to truly live up to its rhetoric of ‘bouncing back better’ then it will need to go much further.”

Many countries are announcing bigger & bigger eco-spending, with France promising £13bn just recently, Germany £36bn and Italy providing generous ‘eco bonus’ tax breaks. Heat pumps are just one of the many technologies and measures fighting for a slice of the much smaller pie in England. The renewable industry will be looking to the Autumn statement for further support.

On the whole the new scheme has received extensive support though opposition parties have cited a lack of support for renters in the private and social housing sector many of whom live in properties with some of the worst energy efficiency standards. It has also been pointed out that although the £3bn figure is more than many people expected, it is only a fraction of the £9.2bn pledged by the Conservatives in its manifesto to improve the energy efficiency of low-income housing and public buildings.

What Lies Ahead for the Solar Industry?

Solar Industry UK

The majority of people when they hear the words ‘solar power’ immediately think of solar panels on rooftops or large solar farms. It is easy to see why this is the case as until now traditional utility-scale and rooftop solar panels have dominated the solar market.

Scientists continue to look at ways of bringing the costs of solar photovoltaic panels down further and there are new technologies emerging all the time.

New and exciting solar panel technologies either in the pipeline or already on the market will transform the way we think about not just solar, but energy production in general. It is no longer necessary to use large swathes of land or rooftops for solar installations nor does solar need to look boring.

One relatively new technology which has experienced rapid growth since 2016 is floating solar farms.

Silicon panels are becoming cheaper and more efficient day-by-day. According to experts, if photovoltaic panels are placed on reservoirs or other bodies of water, they deliver even greater efficiency as well as a whole lot of other benefits.

Commonly known as ‘Floatovoltaics’ they are photovoltaic solar power systems designed to float on reservoirs, dams, and other water bodies. The first commercial 175 kWH floating panel system was installed in California in 2008 at the Far Niente winery in Napa Valley.

Capable of generating huge amounts of electricity these floating solar farms have the advantage of not taking up valuable land or real estate. The cost of installing them is less than for land based photovoltaic panels. Research has shown that floating solar panels produce up to 10% more power due to the cooling effect of water.

An additional benefit to producing clean solar power, floating solar farms can help with water management.  They do this by reducing the loss of water to evaporation as they restrict air circulation and block sunlight from the surface of the water. They also prevent the production of noxious algae and so lower water treatment costs. Furthermore, the water beneath keeps solar panels clean and minimises energy waste.

Building integrated photovoltaics is another technology that has been around for quite a while. As the name suggests, photovoltaic materials are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades. They can seamlessly blend into the architecture of the building making them an aesthetic choice.

However, being aesthetically pleasing is not the only consideration for solar buyers. Cost matters too. The good news is that the BIPV solar panel systems allow homeowners to save money on building materials and electric power costs. You can substitute BIPV for standard building materials and cut down on the additional cost of solar panel mounting systems.

Using photovoltaic PV glasses installed as building materials acts as an energy-generating device which works in the same way as conventional architectural glasses allowing natural light inside homes and offices.

BIPV technology provides the following benefits: increased energy efficiency; clean and free power output from the sun; decreased operation & maintenance costs; high thermal and sound insulation and a zero-carbon footprint.

For those who are concerned with the look of their roof, solar skins could be an option. Solar Skin is an aesthetic overlay that transforms the look of any solar panel. Solar Skin uses selective light filtration to simultaneously display a vibrant image and transmit sunlight to the underlying solar panel with minimal loss in efficiency. Solar skins are a novel PV technology that allow the integration of custom designs into solar panel systems.

The manufacturer of solar skins, Sistine is looking at how the efficiency of the technology can be increased by running tests at the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Solar thin-film skins are able to maintain high efficiency due to their selective light filtration advancements. The sunlight falling on solar skins is filtered to reach the solar cells beneath it and as a result, it simultaneously displays the custom image and provides solar energy.

Solar skin panels can be customised to display business logos, business advertisements to help with the branding of your business, or the imprinted custom images can exactly match your grassy lawns or rooftops of your homes.

If you are not happy with the appearance of traditional solar panels then solar skins may be ideal for you as they don’t use a racking system and so sit lower and hide metal components, giving them a sleek finish.

Another positive aspect of Sistine Solar is the ability to monitor the performance of your system 24 hours a day via your phone. They also provide you with alerts if there are any problems or solar energy outages and supply the right solutions in a timely manner.

The only downside of solar skin panels is their cost which is about 10% more than traditional panels.

Photovoltaic solar noise barriers (PVNB) are an ingenious way of integrating barrier systems with photovoltaic (PV) systems. The systems use solar cells to convert light energy directly into electricity in the usual way. However, they are top-mounted, retrofit designs that provide additional area to an existing noise barrier structure and are currently the most common PVNB approach.

Highway traffic noise in the US has been a concern for a long time and originally noise barriers were erected with the single aim of performing noise abatement functions, but the US has now seen the potential of merging noise barriers with sustainable power generation.

Not only can we produce solar power at a fixed location, but it is now also possible to do this while on the move through your own clothing. Solar radiation is after all available all over the planet. Solar cell fabric is embedded with photovoltaic cells which generate electricity when exposed to light. Traditional silicon based solar cells are expensive to manufacture, rigid and fragile. Although less efficient, thin-film cells and organic polymer-based cells can be produced quickly and cheaply. 

Much research is being done on developing solar fabrics, the idea being to include solar power in each fibre. Solar filaments could be embedded into your t-shirts, winter coats, or any other clothing to help you keep warmer or power your phone for example.

Researchers are attempting to combine solar fabric and solar panels in several areas: building facades that provide both shade and power; awnings that lighten up streetlights and curtains that eliminate power consumption from the grid.

One specific project that is being worked on involves the US army. Solar cell manufacturing companies are looking at creating solar-powered robotic tents.

Some of the best experts in the UK have got together to develop a spray coating technique. According to Sheffield University’s Professor David Lidzey, research carried out by his team has revealed that the way spray coated solar cells perform is the same as cells manufactured in more traditional methods.

He said:

“We found that the performance of our spray coated solar cells is the same as cells made with more traditional research methods, but which are impossible to scale in manufacturing.”

Unlike silicon solar cells, cells made from plastic require far less energy. However, as a material plastic cannot generate electricity as efficiently as silicon. Not only that, solar panels made from silicon have a life expectancy of 25 years. Scientists are currently working on increasing the energy conversion efficiency and the life cycle of plastic solar cells.

In yet another development, engineers from Yale University have discovered that a higher energy conversion efficiency can be achieved by combining carbon nanotube technology with traditional crystalline silicon materials. Thin films made from carbon nanotubes were layered onto a single-crystalline silicon base to create a new generation of efficient hybrid carbon/silicon solar cells.

As you can see the solar industry is continually evolving and with solar costs falling all the time it is likely that we will see a time when almost everything will be powered by free solar, the sun.

UK Government Urged to Decarbonise heat by Green Groups

home energy reduction

The decarbonisation of heating represents a life-changing challenge for many countries.  If the UK is to reach its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 it needs to completely remove fossil fuel combustion from heating in just three decades.

It is generally agreed that careful planning and policy are required to bring about the scale of low carbon heat transformation needed. At the present time, according to the International Energy Agency, heat makes up half of global energy use and is responsible for approximately 40% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

The government is due to release the next phase of its economic recovery package in the second week of July and many green groups are anxious to ensure that the decarbonisation of heat is written into their proposals. They have written to the chancellor urging him to prioritise investments that can decarbonise the UK’s housing stock.

A letter signed by Greenpeace, CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), Friends of the Earth and E3G is calling for the chancellor to transform the UK from “zero-carbon heat laggard to leader” by choosing to take on a range of measures that can energise the heat pump market.

The groups are warning that the decarbonisation of heat “is the biggest gap” the UK comes up against in meeting its net zero target by 2050. In order to meet this target, they believe that something in the region of one million heat pumps need to be installed per year. Although, space heating and hot water in buildings makes up 21% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions only 100,000 heat pumps were installed in 2019 a tiny segment of what is needed.

The letter presses the government to commit to cutting emissions from heating in half by 2030., a transitional goal that would get the country “on track” to net zero.

Associate director at climate think tank E3G, Ed Matthew, anticipates energy efficiency measures and the installation of heat pumps creating more jobs across the UK than any other capital infrastructure programme.

He said:

“It is the perfect economic stimulus to boost jobs and can help get us on track to net-zero and solve fuel poverty. No other infrastructure programme can do so much for people in every part of the country. If the Government is serious about building our way out of the recession, it must prioritise the re-building of our homes to make them zero carbon.”

The groups are asking for the £100m Clean Heat Grant programme for heat pumps announced in the last budget to be brought forward to this year to encourage and stimulate a zero-carbon heating transformation. This would allow a ‘Clash for Clunkers’ heat scheme to provide grants for anyone exchanging an old fossil-fuel boiler for a heat pump.

Another of the campaigners’ requests is for the government to set a target to bring all homes to at least EPC Band C by 2030.

Energy Performance Certificates are a legal requirement for a building to be sold, let, or constructed and were introduced in England and Wales in 2007. Once obtained, an EPC is valid for 10 years. 

The most efficient homes, which should have the lowest fuel bills are in band A. The Certificate also tells you, on a scale of A-G, about the impact the home has on the environment. Better-rated homes should have less impact through Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The groups want the government to deliver on its manifesto pledge to invest £9.2bn on energy efficiency upgrades for low-income households, schools, and hospitals. They also suggested that a further $500m should be provided annually to encourage the take-up of energy efficiency improvements by households that are able to contribute. They predict that targeted incentive schemes would open up five times as much private investment in home upgrades and create thousands of jobs at the same time.

Finally, the group’s letter calls for a further 2.3bn investment in a public-private financing plan that can act as a catalyst for the installation of 10 million heat pumps in homes before the end of the decade.

Recently reports have surfaced that suggest the government is looking at watering down its £9.2bn upgrade programme in favour of rolling out what some may consider to be a more exciting housebuilding programme.

Chief executive of the CPRE, Crispin Truman is pressing the government to put into action its planned Future Homes Standard, which is currently due in 2025, as soon as possible.

He said:

“The chancellor has a real opportunity to turn this around to create new green jobs, especially in hard hit rural communities, while helping to get us back on track in facing up to the climate crisis. Looking ahead, a Future Homes Standard is needed as soon as possible, so that new housing becomes part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Only then can the government claim to be building back better.” 

The group’s letter stresses that the government should focus on heat pumps rather than hydrogen in order to decarbonise heat at least in the medium-term. Though they support investment in the development of green hydrogen for use by heavy industry and freight they do not believe that it makes “economic or environmental sense to use hydrogen to heat the majority of the buildings on the gas network”.

The letter includes a warning that blue hydrogen sourced from methane with a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system is not “net zero compatible” at the scale required for heating buildings, as a high level of greenhouse emissions leak from the gas supply chain.

The British Gas parent company Centrica has put forward a similar argument in a briefing document which says that heat pumps should be the main focus of heat decarbonisation efforts in the short to medium term.

However, there are a number of leading gas network companies who have presented a very different plan to policymakers in recent months which involves switching the existing gas network to hydrogen and biomethane. They believe that this will provide a more cost-effective long-term route for decarbonising heating. 

Statutory government advisor ‘The Committee on Climate Change’ (CCC) believes that in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, no fossil fuel heat systems can be installed after 2035. At the moment, despite the long-term goal for heat decarbonisation, reaching this target appears to be very uncertain and progress is slow.

Mass electrification has often been assumed to be the way forward for heat decarbonisation but the potential technology options have become far more diverse to include roles for heat pumps in conjunction with electrification, district heating, bio-energy, hydrogen and varying levels of increased energy efficiency leaving the pathway to heat decarbonisation significantly uncertain.

There is no doubt that with only three decades remaining to decarbonise heating in the UK rapid policy development is required and even in the face of uncertainty decisions will need to be made.

Find out more about heat pumps here.

First Quarter of 2020 Sees UK Break Renewable Energy Record

Solar Farm

In the first three months of 2020 renewable energy was responsible for generating almost half of Britain’s electricity helped by a surge in wind power.

This sets a new record for clean energy as government’s official data reveals that renewable energy accounted for 47% of the UK’s electricity generation in the first three months of the year, completely overtaking the previous quarterly record of 39% set last year.

The renewable energy data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), shows a combination of electricity from the UK’s windfarms, solar panels and hydro power plants as well as bioenergy generated by burning wood chips as a substitute for coal.

According to the government’s energy analysts, significant growth in electricity generated by solar panels and windfarms which climbed by more than a third over the last year, was the main reason for the “substantial increase” in the UK’s total renewable energy output.

Though solar, unsurprisingly did not have as strong a first quarter as wind power it has broken a number of records over the past few months that highlight its importance in the UK. This includes its performance in April when it smashed peak generation with 9.68GW

The government’s report goes on to explain that the start-up of new windfarms in combination with the UK’s unusually wet and windy weather at the start of the year, notably storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge helped to generate record wind power generation.

Renewable energy generated by offshore wind farms contributed the largest increase in the first quarter of the year, climbing by 53% compared with the previous year, while onshore wind generation grew by a fifth.

In total, 30% of the UK’s electricity was generated by wind power in the first quarter which beat the previous record of 22.3% set in the final months of 2019.

Renewable UK’s, Rebecca Williams, head of policy and regulation, said that the renewable energy industry’s records would certainly be broken again in the years ahead as the government worked on “a massive expansion of renewables as part of the UK’s green economic recovery”.

For the first time since coal-fired power generation began during the industrial revolution, the UK set a new coal-free record of more than two months in the first quarter of this year as a result of a surge in renewable energy brought on by both bright, breezy weather and low demand during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Rebecca Williams said that the government’s record quarterly data was very important in showing how records had been set for clean energy transition at the coldest time of the year.

She said:

“At the coldest time of year, wind and renewables rewrote the record books right across the board, keeping our nation powered up when we need it most. This is the clean energy transition written very large indeed,”

The acceleration in the growth of renewable energy together with a steady supply of nuclear power, which made up about 15% of the UK generation mix, drove fossil fuel power plants to a new record low in the first quarter.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth, said in a statement:

“These figures highlight the progress being made as our country moves away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. The huge shift to clean energy over the past decade is one of our great national success stories, and this Government is determined to go even further to reach our net zero emissions target by 2050.”

Less than a third of UK energy generation in the first quarter came from gas-fired power plants in comparison with over 40% in the first months of 2019. Coal-fired power makes up only 3.8% of the electricity generated in the UK. These statistics show us that the UK is on it way to achieving its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

UK’s Largest Solar Plant Gets Final Go Ahead

solar park

The UK Planning Inspectorate Office gave its final approval for the 350MW Cleve Hill Solar Park in Kent to be developed at the end of May. The UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma has given the green light for Britain’s largest solar farm to be built. He said the decision was not made lightly but expressed his belief that the project will be a world leader in solar and power storage.

When completed the subsidy-free renewables park is expected to reach a capacity of 350MW which will be achieved by installing 880,000 solar panels, some as tall as buses, across 364 hectares (900 acres) of farmland in the Kent countryside at a cost of in the region of £450m. The solar farm will be able to generate enough clean electricity to power 91,000 homes and could include one of the world’s largest energy storage systems.

According to Engadget a technology blog, the park was considered to be a Nationally Significant Infrastructure because its capacity exceeded 50MW, meaning that it had to be subjected to an extensive application including public hearings.

The controversial project which was three years in the planning has been dogged by fierce criticism by many local people and has divided green groups. Greenpeace, the RSPB, and the countryside charity CPRE are against the plan believing that it will industrialise the countryside and that it might harm an adjacent wildlife site. However, Friends of the Earth have offered qualified support, on the grounds that the current intensively farmed land was bad for wildlife anyway.

Speaking on behalf of Friends of the Earth, Mike Child said:

 “No-one wants to see damage to local habitats, but this is not some lovely, untouched meadow. Changing the use of the site from intensive agriculture will reduce the high level of chemicals currently harming insects and wildlife – but we have to hold the developers to account”.

The countryside charity, CPRE fears that the proposed battery system could cause fires and explosions which has been known to happen in other countries around the world. The developers, Wirsol Energy and Hive Energy are confident that it will be safe.  There are many measures that can be put in place to ensure safety such as adequate ventilation. They claim that the project will be one of the lowest-cost power generators in the UK and that it will bring local councils £1m every year that the scheme is running. At this point in time, the project is expected to be constructed one mile north-east of Faversham close to the village of Graveney.

A spokeswoman for the project said the developers had responded and carefully considered the concerns over the scale of the project’s battery storage ambitions. Everything had been looked at “in great detail” during the examination process with the planning inspectorate. She went on to say that safety considerations had been discussed “at great length” with the supply chain, the Health and Safety Executive and Kent Fire and Rescue Service.

Cleve Hill has submitted plans to ensure the preservation of native woodland and scrub within the bounds of the site. They plan to host a habitat management area of more than 138 hectares which will include a new bat roost. The planning will also include footpaths for ramblers, and a buffer zone of at least 63 metres between the solar park and the Saxon Shore Way.

Cleve Hill spokeswoman Emily Marshall told The Independent:

“The solar park will deliver a 65 percent increase in biodiversity on the intensively farmed site by including open grassland and meadow areas, hedgerows and woodland”.

Environmentalists want the developers to offer free rooftop solar panels to local people who have been protesting against the solar farm and in particular the giant energy storage unit.

Developers hope to begin building Cleve Hill solar farm from early 2021 and to begin generating clean energy from 2023.

The developers believe the project could help cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 68,000 tonnes a year which is not an insignificant contribution in helping the UK reach its net zero goal by 2050.

Solar energy has produced record levels of clean electricity in recent weeks reaching new highs of 9.68GW in April this year and helping the UK energy system to generate electricity for the longest stretch without coal-fired power since the Industrial Revolution.

The renewables industry thinks the UK’s solar power capacity could rise to 27GW by 2030 as a result of the UK government dropping the block which prevented solar farms and onshore wind projects from competing in subsidy contract auctions.

At the same time there has been a boom in battery projects which could mean the electricity generated by solar panels during the day could help to keep lights on at night too, helping to cut carbon emissions and domestic energy bills.

Renewable energy is the vital element in the UK’s plans to build a carbon neutral economy by 2050 and end its contribution to the climate crisis. It could potentially also play a big part in boosting economic growth after the Coronavirus pandemic.

Find out more about solar here

What Needs to Happen in the UK’s Journey to Net Zero

UK Transition

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s statutory adviser, has published its progress report this month making a number of recommendations on how to cut emissions. The report says that the UK needs to act urgently if there is any chance of the UK reaching its target of hitting net zero emissions by 2050.

There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding about what net zero means among the public generally. Most people are aware of the ‘net zero’ target for cutting the carbon emissions that cause climate change but don’t know what it means or what they can do to help achieve it. The UK government describes net zero as meaning “that the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to or less than the emissions the UK removed from the environment”.

To explain in a little more depth, Jacob Roberts, Infrastructure Strategy Specialist, says that while “zero emissions” implies that no fossil fuels will be burnt and no emissions released, net zero acknowledges that some carbon emissions are unavoidable, but instead can be offset by, for example, capturing and storing CO2 or by planting trees. In other words, if you emit 100 tonnes of carbon a year and you offset 100 tonnes of carbon a year, you’re at net zero.

The CCC have set out a number of pointers to help guide the UK towards its ultimate goal in 2050.

To start on a positive note, by far the biggest progress we’ve made in cutting carbon emissions has been in changing the way we generate electricity. We have almost completely replaced coal power generation with clean renewable generation from wind, solar and biomass. However, there is still a great deal to be done.

Currently housing is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, along with transport. The CCC advises a national plan to be developed to make the UK’s draughty homes more energy efficient by insulating them. This would create thousands of new green jobs much needed to help a beleaguered UK come out of the Coronavirus recession.

One of the biggest challenges to reducing emissions is the widespread use of gas boilers in the UK. Over 90% of people use gas or oil to heat their homes and water. Available alternatives such as ground-source heat pumps have been slow to take off but the CCC warns that if low-carbon heating doesn’t become the main form of domestic heat by the early 2030s it will be difficult to reach the net zero target. Other sources of renewable heat energy can come from a wide variety of sources including solar panels, boilers that burn biomass or low carbon gases including hydrogen.

The CCC has suggested that now would be a good time to raise fuel duties as oil prices are at an all-time low and so wouldn’t hit consumers as much. They say that what essentially amounts to a carbon tax could bring in about £15bn in government revenues which could be used for other green measures such as inducements to encourage motorists to switch to electric vehicles.

The UK is currently in it’s third carbon budget which prohibits the UK from releasing any more than 2,540 million tonnes of carbon emissions between 2018 and 2022.

To give you an idea of the amount of carbon emissions that constitutes, you would have to drive your car for over a lightyear to emit that much.

Although the UK is on track to fulfil the target set in the third carbon budget it still has a long way to go in order to become net zero by 2050.

Earlier in the year, the prime minister pledged to bring forward the phasing out of diesel and petrol vehicles to 2035. Despite opposition to this by car manufacturers the CCC says its research shows that the changeover to electric vehicles could happen as early as 2032. There continues to be more choice than ever when it comes to electric vehicles, as manufacturers launch new models with ever increasing ranges and faster charging times. 

The CCC also makes recommendations about agriculture and land use. They call for more tree planting and the restoring of peatlands, wetlands, and other natural carbon sinks which they believe could also generate new jobs across the UK in both rural areas and in cities where green space is disappearing. They advise that the agriculture bill going through parliament should offer an opportunity for more nature friendly farming that can help lock carbon into vegetation and soils, turning agriculture from a major source of emissions to a net absorber.

The CCC recognises the opportunity afforded by the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and believes it’s a good time for the government to step in with reskilling and retraining programmes. According to the report thenet zero economy will require a net zero workforce.  This will include everything from installing low-carbon boilers and home insulation to improving broadband networks (allowing more home-working) and creating jobs in expanding industries such as offshore wind.

Research and innovation are also on the CCC’s agenda for change. If the UK is to become a centre of low-carbon development after leaving the EU it will be vital to embark on an extensive programme of targeted research and innovation in low-carbon technologies. Funding is needed in technologies that show some promise including hydrogen fuel and the development of carbon capture and storage in depleted oilfields under the North Sea.

The CCC found that approximately half of employed people were working from home in April at the height of the pandemic which showed that home working is possible. As a result of this changed behaviour during lockdown there was a marked decrease in carbon emissions as far fewer people were driving to work. The CCC would like to see employers encouraged to make this a permanent change if possible. In order to achieve this, new infrastructure is needed to help people continue to cycle and walk to work. They feel that the public sector should lead people by example in encouraging remote working.

The CCC sees a need for housebuilders and homeowners to adapt the UK’s housing to better deal with hotter summers, one of the effects of the climate crisis. One idea would be to grow thick ivy on the walls of buildings to prevent overheating they say. They also suggest that ministers who have pledged to spend £5bn on flood defences, should bring this action forward to protect homes and create green jobs.

According to the CCC reaching net zero emissions could cost tens of billions of pounds per year and around 1–2% of national wealth each year by 2050. However, what’s clear is that not aiming for net zero is not an option. It would be more costly to allow runaway climate change and so it is impossible to put a price on the benefits of achieving net zero.

Find out more about solar here. 

Find out more about heat pumps here.