BERR advisers say UK will miss renewables target

The government’s Renewables Advisory Board says the UK is likely to miss the EU’s proposed 2020 renewables target.

The UK will only generate 14% of its energy from renewables in 2020 even with a significant policy change, which means it will miss a mandatory target proposed by the EU, according to the government’s own renewable energy advisers.

In a report on how the UK can meets the 15% target set in the EU’s proposed renewable energy Directive in January (ENDS Report 397, pp 48-50 ), the Renewables Advisory Board (RAB) says the UK can achieve 14% if "significant but achievable policy changes" are implemented. The document identifies three alternative ways the UK could stretch to meet 15%, including building a Severn barrage, but admits they are unlikely to happen.

RAB is a non-departmental public body which provides advice directly to the Secretary of State. The report was submitted as evidence to the House of Lords EU Internal Market Committee inquiry into the EU target, but has also been passed to ministers.

Achieving 14%, says the board, would require the UK to source 7.1% of its total energy requirement from large-scale renewable electricity, 3.3% from domestic renewables, 2.7% from biofuels and 0.9% from renewable heat (see figure).

In terms of electricity, this means 40% of UK electricity supply would have to come from renewables, requiring 18 gigawatts of offshore wind, 13GW of onshore wind and 4GW of dedicate biomass or energy-from-waste plants. These are all sharp increases on current capacities. For example, only 403 megawatts (0.403GW) of offshore wind are now operational.

In terms of domestic renewables, radical action would be needed for new buildings and the existing housing stock, RAB says. In terms of existing housing, one home in every 20 would need to have solar hot water installation and one in 38 would need photovoltaic panels.

The RAB does not state the reasons why it believes the UK will miss the target, but these are understood to be "traditional issues" relating to limitations of the current national grid and its connection framework, and the wind turbine supply chain (ENDS Report 399, pp 24-28 ). However, it does identify some of the most urgent policy changes needed. For electricity these include:

  • The grid: Strategic studies are needed to work out how to extend and reinforce the national grid so it can cope with 40% renewables. "Arguably we are already too late [to do these]," it says. The UK will need 34GW of new transmission infrastructure to cope, according to a report by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy on the target, also published in May.2
  • Radar: The recent spate of objections to wind farms by the Ministry of Defence due to their impacts on radar needs to be addressed. The issue of who pays to test technical solutions needs to be resolved.
  • Support: Industry needs a clear idea of what support mechanism will follow the Renewables Obligation (RO) within two years. This must last "well beyond" 2027, when the RO is due to end.
  • The RAB’s most interesting recommendations concern the built environment. Statutory targets are needed to encourage the installation of domestic microrenewables, it says. "Financial and fiscal strategy with significantly stronger and better targeted incentives" are also required.

    These comments can be seen as tacit criticism of the government’s existing grant scheme for micro-renewables, the low carbon buildings programme. This was recently extended by a year to June 2010 because take-up has been low (ENDS Report 399, p 38 ).

    To reach the 15% proposed by the EU, the UK would need to build an extra 6GW of offshore wind or increase the contribution of energy from the existing housing stock significantly, including widespread installation of district heating networks. The third option is the Severn barrage; for that to count towards the target, construction would need to begin before 2016. Under EU rules, half its energy output could then be included.

    The report calls these "stretch" options and admits they are "more challenging". Privately, some RAB members believe a "culture change" in the energy regulator Ofgem is needed if the targets are to be achieved.

    The problems of wind supply chains look set to continue. In May, the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) announced it was ending its work to develop UK wind engineering and manufacturing capacity.

    The work had been funded by two regional development agencies and the Business Department (BERR), but this was cut. The programme focused on looking at the components that make up wind turbines - such as gearboxes, braking systems, industrial fasteners and electronics - then finding UK firms who could fill that demand.

    Most of these firms had not supplied the wind industry before, focusing instead on sectors such as aerospace or car manufacturing industry.

    "Given the shortage of manufacturing capacity globally for wind turbines, this is a real lost opportunity," said David Middleton, BCSD’s chief executive.