2017 has indisputably been the year of clean, renewable power. Low carbon overall generated a majority of the UK’s electricity for the first time ever and wind generated more than coal plants on more than 75% of days last year and proved itself as the low cost option for our future power system. September’s auction results showed just how low the costs of mainstream renewable technologies have fallen, with offshore wind – previously seen as the outlier for low carbon technologies – halving costs and coming in cheaper than new nuclear and gas plants at £57.50 per MWh.
The stunning result for offshore wind has helped to reframe the debate about renewables more widely and, in particular, how the UK can take advantage of our cheapest option for new power capacity – onshore wind. Following very difficult years for the sector, we begin 2018 with a new recognition from Government that, as BEIS Minister Claire Perry said in November, “onshore wind is absolutely part of the future”. Industry has much to do to ensure new projects can get to market and RenewableUK is working with our members to make this a reality.
For marine renewables, 2017 brought more mixed results. The Hendry Review concluded that tidal lagoons can deliver a secure supply of energy for a price which is competitive in the long-term. But as the anniversary of the Hendry Review approaches we are still waiting for the Government’s response and a decision to take forward this world-leading project. The wider wave and tidal stream sector is continuing to innovate and bring forward new technologies to deliver the broad range of low carbon technologies we need for our future power mix. Last year the MeyGen project in the Pentland Firth delivered the world’s first commercial scale tidal array and Scotrenewables’s tidal turbine smashed the record for generating one gigawatt hour of power in testing at EMEC in Orkney.
The ambition of the sector isn’t matched, however, by the policy framework. Government is starting to recognise the need for new ways to support innovative technologies and Energy Minister Richard Harrington has said that Government is examining industry’s Innovation Power Purchase Agreement proposal. We know that the sector needs a robust evidence base and in the coming months, the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult and RenewableUK are producing a new study on the potential for cost reduction, UK exports and cuts in emissions from the marine renewables.
Innovation in 2017 wasn’t confined to wave and tidal energy; October saw Statoil and Masdar’s Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, beginning to deliver electricity to the grid, and in May the world’s largest turbines, the MHI Vestas V164-8.0MW, started turning at Ørsted’s Burbo Bank Extension. The Queen’s visit to the Siemens Gamesa blade factory in Hull last November was a powerful signal of how renewables, and the UK industries we have built up, are now a part of the new energy mainstream.
In 2018, we want to go further still in building an energy system fit for the future – and the UK supply chains to deliver it. The consultation on our Smart Power Future and the launch of the £246 million Faraday Challenge to support innovation in batteries and storage were clear signals that the Government recognises the direction of travel for our power system. Last year RenewableUK joined forces with a range of energy bodies to launch the Smart Power Industries Alliance to look beyond individual technologies and take a whole system view of a renewables-dominated power mix.
We ended 2017 with new projections from Government that underline the move to a low carbon mix with renewables as the main source of energy. Just as 2017 marked the crossover point where we proved our case on costs, so 2018 will mark the moment we begin to reshape the power system to seize fully the opportunities of a clean energy future: reduced electricity bills, secure power supplies and more productive industries and high-value jobs across the UK.