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UK Needs to Take Urgent Action to Achieve its Net Zero Emissions Target by 2050

UK Needs to Take Urgent Action to Achieve its Net Zero Emissions Target by 2050


RenewableUK has issued a warning that the UK is considerably off track in meeting the level of onshore wind required to attain the legally binding 2050 net zero emissions target. A new study from the industry body has shown that unless there is a change in policy, onshore wind capacity is expected to fall nearly 40% short of the target by 2030.

The power produced currently by just over 13.5 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind installed across the UK avoids over 14 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year. The UK government has been advised by the Committee on Climate Change that onshore wind capacity needs to grow by at least 1GW a year to reach the net zero emissions target of 35GW by 2035. In order to achieve this the UK would require approximately 29GW to be installed by 2030.

However, the current trend shows that capacity will grow to only 17.8GW by 2030 according to a new study by RenewableUK’s Project Intelligence team.  Reaching this level depends on 4.5GW of new onshore wind farms being built without government- backed contracts for new renewable power. In place of this, new capacity will have to rely on Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with corporates or the merchant power price. Just under 1GW (740 megawatts) will be repowered with older turbines being replaced by new modern turbines.

Earlier this year the governments Science and Technology Committee published a report into the government’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Professor Nilay Shah FREng, Director of the Centre for Process Systems Engineering at Imperial College London and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“The Science & Technology Committee is right that ‎net zero is going to require a transformation of our energy, transport, industrial and commercial systems. We shall have to pursue a twin track of deep reductions in emissions together with the deployment of greenhouse gas removal systems. Both of these require innovative business models and policies, and will be needed globally, indicating an opportunity for the UK to be at the forefront of these developments.”

RenewableUK’s analysis says that a lower growth scenario would see onshore wind capacity only growing by 1GW to just 14.5GW by 2030 with the rate of new wind farm installations being outmatched by the withdrawal of older projects.

The higher scenario anticipates serious growth in onshore wind with capacity growing to 24.4GW. To reach this level supportive policies would be required from the government to include, allowing onshore wind to compete for new Contracts for Difference and setting planning guidance for repowering and enabling use of the most up-to-date turbines.

The Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme is the government's main mechanism for supporting low-carbon electricity generation. Renewable generators located in the UK that meet the eligibility requirements can apply for a CfD by submitting what is a form of 'sealed bid'.

Professor Roger Kemp FREng, Lancaster University, said earlier in the year:

“Achieving ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions, without recourse to questionable ‘offsetting’ arrangements, will require a dramatically different approach to energy use. Many of the technologies we take for granted, such as gas central heating or petrol-driven cars, will have to be consigned to museums. Electricity will have to be generated exclusively by zero-carbon sources, mainly renewables, 24/7 all year, not just on windy days in summer.

“Many of these technologies, including cars, buses and lorries or central heating boilers, have life-cycles of up to 20 years from the time the order is placed until the product has been scrapped. ‘Net-zero’ by 2050 means that alternatives must be “this is way things are done” by 2030 which gives a very short timescale to change.

“There is no evidence that governments over the last few years have recognised the challenge a ‘net-zero’ target represents. Policies on fracking, reduced subsidies for renewables and opposition to onshore wind farms are all moving in the wrong direction.”

In 2017 installations of new onshore wind turbines reached a peak of nearly 2.7GW before plummeting by 80% in 2018 to the smallest number of new installations since 2011. This was mostly due to policy changes brought in by the government after the 2015 election which included the cessation of Contracts for Difference auctions to onshore winds.

Commenting on the new figures, RenewableUK’s Head of Policy and Regulation, Rebecca Williams said:

“We are on the eve of what should be the greenest election the UK has ever seen. Public demand for action to tackle climate change has never been higher and the next Government will have to deliver ambitious, credible plans that put us on track to meet our net zero emissions target.

 “Onshore wind is the single largest renewable power source in the UK, and you can’t be credible on net zero unless you’re serious about onshore wind. But without new policies, we won’t get anywhere near the levels needed for net zero. Growing our onshore wind capacity in line with the CCC’s recommendation will bring down consumer bills, and secure new investment and jobs in communities across the UK”.

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Richard is a seasoned director and a respected authority in the field of renewable energy, leveraging his extensive experience working with and for large PLC's in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) industry.

He has worked on hundreds of projects across the United Kingdom like HS2 and other major critical highways and infrastructure projects, both for the public and private sectors.

He is one of the chief driving forces behind the creation, development, and management of The Renewable Energy Hub, your premier online destination for sustainable energy knowledge and resources.


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