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Changing priorities in the UK’s energy mix

Posted By Luke Clark, 04 October 2017

Since the announcement last Monday that the cost of new offshore wind farms has fallen by nearly 50% in just over two years, the debate over the implications of this spectacular reduction has played out in Parliament, in the newspapers and across social media. This has largely pitted different power sources against each other in a zero-sum game. The offshore wind industry, however, has always supported the idea of an energy mix of various generation technologies in the UK to meet the challenge of providing secure, affordable and clean energy to consumers.

We have argued that a mix of technologies is needed because each technology has different characteristics. Wind power, of course, requires the wind to blow in order to generate electricity. Off the UK’s coasts, the winds are stronger and steadier meaning we can generate power at scale and do it at low cost. We have always supported new nuclear power as part of the energy mix. Nuclear power stations can generate huge amounts of low-carbon power but they cannot be ramped up or turned down quickly to match changes in demand. We believe the mix should also include onshore wind as it’s the cheapest source of new power, as well as innovative technologies like wave and tidal energy.

However, the mix isn’t only about generation technologies. There is a slew of new technologies coming forward to help the grid manage supply and demand – batteries are just one example, alongside smart appliances, electric vehicles and potentially revolutionary algorithms from tech companies like Google’s DeepMind. So we need a mix of technologies to ensure that we meet demand at all times, and do so cheaply while also cutting polluting emissions.

Last month’s astounding announcement showed that offshore wind can produce power for under 6p per kilowatt hour – lower than the cost of new nuclear and new gas plants. That doesn’t change the need for an energy mix, but it does change how we think about the costs of the choices we make in building that mix.

We shouldn’t be bashful about the scale of the offshore wind industry’s achievement in bringing down the cost of this technology, which is still a relatively new kid on the block in energy terms. A halving of technology costs in such a short space of time is simply not something we normally see in infrastructure. You might see it in consumer electronics or telecoms but certainly not in other large infrastructure projects.

And the offshore wind industry has proven it can deliver at scale. Since 2010 we’ve built over 5,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity, and we’re bringing investment of over £20 billion to our country over the course of this decade. These projects have delivered new power capacity on time, and alongside the turbines, we’ve built a world-class domestic supply chain based in coastal communities across the UK. Former fishermen have become captains of offshore wind service vessels and ex-North Sea oil workers have become wind turbine technicians. If there is an industry with a better record of delivering multi-billion-pound energy infrastructure projects, I’d like to see it.

By Luke Clark, Head of Public Affairs, RenewableUK

This article first appeared in BusinessGreen.

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A Tribute to Calum Davidson

Posted By Maf Smith, Deputy Chief Executive, RenewableUK, 20 September 2017

 

Yesterday here at RenewableUK we heard the sad news that Calum Davidson, the ex Head of Energy at Highlands & Islands Enterprise had passed away. Calum, as those of you who were lucky enough to know him will be aware, was a leader in the renewable energy sector for many years, and was responsible for so much of all the work which put the Highlands & Islands on the map as a renewable energy powerhouse. He stood down last year after learning he had an aggressive tumour; itself terrible news which he announced with typical candour and vigour.

While I was Chief Executive at Scottish Renewables, I was a regular user of the phrase that “Scotland is the Saudi Arabia of renewables.” I adapted that from Professor Ian Bryden. The phrase was taken up by Alex Salmond and others, as over time renewables shifted from being an interesting but marginal technology to become one of the centre pieces of Scotland’s economy. It was people like Calum of course who not only had the vision, but worked to organise Government and agencies like HIE to deliver this.

In 2015 HIE was 40 years old and I had the pleasure to see it receive a Judges Award at the Scottish Green Energy Awards, collected by Calum on behalf of his team. Having been part of Scottish Renewables when it established the awards, and then part of the judging panel, that was a moment of immense satisfaction for me. Afterwards I blogged that “as an enterprise body HIE shows the very best of the public sector; always wanting to push things on, find ways to tackle problems and make a difference to communities and businesses across northern Scotland. At RenewableUK we see many great examples of work by local enterprise partnerships and other agencies, but HIE remains something special. If the UK Government could drink from the HIE water cooler for just one day, imagine the difference it could make. I write this because HIE has shown that partnership matters. Industry and public bodies working together with a common purpose to bring economic, social and environmental benefits. For HIE, renewable energy is an obvious choice as an economic opportunity given the fantastic resource there. But many seem oblivious to what renewable energy has helped us achieve.”

That description is as true today as it was then. HIE has delivered great work over many years and has been behind the renewables sector every step of the way as we’ve journeyed from challenger to mainstream. The growth of our industry is thanks to people like Calum who backed us and were ambitious about what could be achieved, and the benefit we could secure for people and businesses across the Highlands and Islands. I hope that the achievements of our sector can be a fitting legacy to sit alongside Calum’s pride in his Cromarty roots, his fantastic photography and his verve and zest for life which will be sadly missed by all who know him.

 

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New evidence that cheap wind energy is helping consumers

Posted By Rebecca Williams, Policy Manager, 27 June 2017

So it’s confirmed – you can have your cake and eat it - at least in terms of your energy bill. Last week uSwitch published figures which show that consumers can save money and clean up their electricity supply at the same time. It’s great to have this on the record, as there’s still a misconception among some bill payers that doing the right thing could hurt their wallets. uSwitch’s research shows that the 24 cheapest renewable energy tariffs are less expensive than the average standard variable tariffs offered by the main electricity suppliers.

The findings come as no surprise to those of us in the renewable energy industry who have seen spectacular reductions in the cost of wind energy in the UK, with onshore wind now the cheapest form of new power bar none. Offshore wind costs have fallen by a third in 4 years and the technology is on course to be cheaper than new nuclear in this summer’s CfD auction. In short, renewable electricity is increasingly the cheapest way to power the UK.

The last few years have also seen the price of clean energy tariffs tumble, with uSwitch’s figures showing that the cheapest renewable energy tariff is now just £8 a year more expensive than the cheapest deal on the market, compared to £110 a year ago. It now costs only 2p a day to go green, compared to the rock bottom deal.

Clean energy is consistently and compellingly popular, with over three quarters of the public saying that they are in favour of power from renewable sources. The fact that renewables- led tariffs are getting closer to the cheapest deals on the market will enable more consumers, who have always supported renewables in principle, to make their energy bills greener in practice. The new figures show that more than a quarter of energy customers are now more likely to choose an environmentally-friendly tariff than they were three years ago. This is having big implications for the retail market – the research reveals that the number of renewable energy deals has increased from 13 to 30 in the last year alone. The word on the street is that we will be seeing the first clean energy tariff from one of the large electricity suppliers any day now. The energy market is backing renewables, and this smart investment is repaying consumers, as well as the UK economy.

(This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen)

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Maria McCaffery secures OBE for taking renewable energy into the mainstream

Posted By Julian Brown, Chairman, RenewableUK, 19 June 2017

 

The happiest of tasks falls to me today - to offer our warmest congratulations to our former Chief Executive Maria McCaffery, who was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to the renewable energy sector.

 

I had the privilege of working closely with Maria, as my stint as Chair of RenewableUK started while she was Chief Executive, and I speak for the whole association when I say how pleased we are to see her award. On a personal level, my time working with Maria was immensely pleasurable. Of course her insights and knowledge proved to be invaluable, but on top of this she possesses a combination of scouse wit, personal integrity and emotional awareness which I wish was more common in the business world. If everyone in industry could cut through in the way she does, we would get a lot more business done.  She is held in high esteem across the industry; And; it was great to see her earlier this month at our biggest event of the year, Offshore Wind Energy 2017 at ExCeL in London, representing James Fisher and Sons, which provides marine and specialist engineering services worldwide.

 

Maria led the sector through a period of unprecedented change – we experienced boom years of extraordinary growth and saw spectacular technical innovation, which sent costs plummeting. It’s no overstatement to say that under her period of leadership, the sector grew up. She took wind energy from the margins, when it was referred to (sometimes pejoratively) as “alternative energy”, into the mainstream, where it has become a main pillar within our modern energy system. When Maria arrived in 2006, wind generated just 1% of UK electricity needs – now it is providing 11%. Onshore wind is now the cheapest source of new power bar none, and offshore wind is set to be cheaper than new nuclear in the upcoming round of CfD auctions. Her record is one of delivery.

 

She oversaw a cultural change too, making RenewableUK more business-focussed, as befits a sector which has gone global. Renewable energy now attracts $290 billion a year in investment worldwide. We are an economic powerhouse, with UK-based companies exporting goods and services to more than 40 countries across six continents. This work is developing further under the dynamic leadership of Hugh McNeal. All of us feel privileged to work for an organisation which is at the cutting edge of the energy sector. We have a great deal more which we are determined to accomplish, and it’s heartening to see good work being given an official seal of recognition. We are all proud of Maria McCaffery OBE.

 

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Orkney - buzzing with marine energy development

Posted By Caroline Bragg, RenewableUK Policy Manager, 21 February 2017

Hoy is a hilly island off the Orkney mainland. The parishes of the island divide it in two – lumping one half together with the island to the south and one with the island to the north. It might seem strange to divide the island this way, but that is before you remember that it was once much easier to sail across a narrow channel to one of the other islands than cross over the hill in the middle.

 

The history of Orkney writes large the advantages of an economy based on water over land. Today, with our globalised and service-based economy driven by the South East of England, it can be hard to imagine the power of regional economies, driven by clever and sustainable uses of natural resources. Yet the world heritage stone circles, burial mounds and settlements on the islands are testament to the Kingdom of Orkney’s expansive and hugely significant prehistoric economy.

 

Regional growth and sustainable use of natural resources are back in mainstream policy thinking, key themes in the Government’s flagship industrial strategy. Officials thinking about how geography defines opportunities for economic growth, new industries, and local communities could do worse than visit the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, as I did this week.

 

The islands are visibly buzzing with marine energy development: Orkney has some of the most powerful waves and tides in the world – sometimes reaching higher than a couple of double-decker buses. The largest tidal device in the world, Scotrenewables’ SR2000 was literally moments away from full commissioning. On Hatson Pier, you can see Tocardo, Wello, Sustainable Marine Energy tidal and wave devices all getting ready for the rough seas. Speaking to the local businesses that serve these projects, such as Green Marine, this season will be their busiest yet. The companies on these small islands are all striving to win a now global race to establish marine energy.

 

“Local supply chain” is a bland way to describe the very colourful businesses that surround marine energy in Orkney. For example, Leask Marine started off doing commercial diving for civil engineering and other sectors. Now, after diving on every one of the 27 devices that has come through EMEC, they’ve built themselves a fabrication yard and are manufacturing standardised components for future marine energy devices, based on the ten years they spent underwater working on the projects of today.  

 

Renewables companies here aren’t just developing wave and tidal technologies. Burgar Hill was one of the first test sites for onshore wind in the UK, when we still led the world in turbine development, and when onshore wind, now our cheapest power generation technology, was considered an expensive alternative. Today, just across from Burgar Hill, sits a wind farm with one of the most efficient turbines leading company ENERCON has ever sold. Orkney’s abundant natural resources mean that it produces 120% of its annual energy demand from renewables. This has made it well placed to innovate. It was a world-leader in energy system management, turning their wind turbines on and off by the second to balance demand and keep the lights on. In 2017, Orkney will be the first place ever to power ferries through hydrogen electrolysis. 

 

Technology innovation and changing markets are fundamentally altering the geography of our energy system and the industries that support it. Instead of being concentrated in oil rigs and large thermal power plants, our energy comes from places, people and projects nearer to us and where we live. Instead of sourcing our power from the North Sea and the Middle East, we are establishing new industrial clusters in Wales, the south west, the Isle of Wight and Solent and the Highlands and Islands. To most people, imagining what the global energy transition might mean for our infrastructure, our regions, and our businesses might look as strange as the parishes of Hoy Island. To the people living in Orkney, it looks perfectly normal. Maybe it’s time for the rest of the UK to look at things the islanders’ way.

 

(This blog first appeared in BusinessGreen)

Tags:  marine energy 

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