May 2, 2024

Doubling Clean Energy Deployment Vital for UK’s Net Zero Goal

The UK targets net-zero emissions by deploying an average of 15.5GW of renewable energy yearly. Despite obstacles like supply chain management and permitting, utilizing solar and onshore wind energy on less than 3% of its land could substantially boost renewable energy output.

Slow Progress Towards Decarbonisation Aim


The UK's clean energy expansion is insufficient to meet its ambitious climate goals, despite growth in the renewable energy sector. Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 necessitates a significant increase in clean energy implementation, but a slow policy environment may hinder progress.

Decarbonization progress in the UK has been sluggish due to political barriers, including bans on onshore wind projects and delays in measures to phase out gas and diesel vehicles and improve energy efficiency in buildings, implemented by former Prime Minister David Cameron and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

As a result of delays in clean energy deployment and other decarbonization efforts, a recent analysis by AtkinsRealis indicates that the UK must deploy an average of 15.5GW of clean energy per year to align with its own targets. This is concerning given that the UK has never added more than 6.5GW of new low-carbon capacity in a single year, a record set back in 2017, according to a recent report by Edie.

Rapid Expansion Necessary Within a Limited Time


In an ideal scenario, the pace of deployment should have been increasing each year to remain on course. Alongside the legally binding commitment to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century, other commitments include carbon budgets aimed at supporting the 2050 net-zero goal, as well as a newer pledge to eliminate all unabated fossil fuels from the national energy mix by 2035.

However, the UK now has less time to accomplish a greater buildout, posing challenges for a seamless transition. According to reports by Edie, a rapid expansion of wind and solar energy within a compressed time frame presents heightened challenges such as supply chain management, planning, permitting, and workforce preparation.

This accelerated buildout also faces significant issues related to contentious land-use agreements, which often require time to resolve. Ultimately, prolonged reliance on unabated gas could jeopardize climate progress as the only alternative.

There’s Hope For a Cleaner UK


However, there is positive news. England has the potential to amplify its renewable energy output by a factor of 13 while utilizing less than 3% of its total land area, solely through the deployment of solar and onshore wind energy, which are the two most cost-effective forms of renewable energy production.

This conclusion stems from recent research conducted by Exeter University, commissioned by Friends of the Earth (FoE). According to their study, England could increase its photovoltaic solar energy capacity by 130 terawatt hours and onshore wind energy capacity by 96 terawatt hours, in addition to the current 17 terawatt hours of renewable electricity generated from all onland clean energy sources combined.

The calculations excluded land unsuitable for clean energy projects, such as national parks, areas of exceptional natural beauty, prime agricultural land, and heritage sites. Rooftop solar panels, which do not require additional undeveloped land, were also not considered in these figures. The remaining proposed sites for large-scale solar and wind farms are illustrated on an interactive map.

Addressing Possible Challenges


Although meeting the UK's climate commitments is entirely feasible, it won't be without challenges. Tony Bosworth, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, emphasized the importance of unlocking the UK's significant potential for generating affordable, clean, domestically sourced renewables to lower energy costs permanently and fulfill the UK's crucial international goal of reducing carbon emissions by two-thirds by 2030.

However, he criticized the current government's inadequate efforts to enhance energy security through renewables, asserting that the UK trails far behind in the global transition to a zero-carbon economy. Additionally, Bosworth expressed concerns about the Labour Party's wavering commitment to climate action after scaling back its planned investments in green growth.

In conclusion, achieving the UK's net-zero emissions goal requires a doubling of clean energy deployment, despite political and logistical challenges. While progress towards decarbonization has been slow, there is hope, as England has the potential to significantly increase renewable energy output using solar and wind energy. However, addressing challenges such as policy inertia and insufficient investment is crucial to realizing this potential and meeting climate commitments.


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