UK government offers £ 265million in renewable energy subsidies
To continue the upward trend in the use of renewable energy in the UK, the UK government has announced £ 265million in grants. How has renewables changed in the UK over the past few years, what will the government’s project help and what challenges is the renewables market facing?
The UK energy market has seen a significant shift from fossil fuels to renewables over the past decade with the aim of reducing CO2 emissions. Energy sources such as coal have been all but phased out, cleaner fossil fuels such as natural gas have taken the place of coal, and renewables are growing exponentially.
Between 2019 and 2020, renewables increased from 35.9% of total energy produced to 47%, and this figure does not even include nuclear energy (a low-carbon energy source). When considering nuclear power, the total amount of low carbon energy sources in the UK grid is around 62%, with the rest being mostly natural gas.
Of the 47% renewable energy sources, wind accounts for 60% of all renewable energy sources, followed by bioenergy, hydropower and solar in descending order. However, it must be recognized that this figure relates to the energy produced for the national grid instead of all the electricity produced. This means that homes with their own solar panels would have produced electricity for their own consumption, thus reducing demand on the grid.
Overall, the UK energy market continues to increase its dependence on renewables. Despite negative coverage from the UK government not taking enough action, data suggests this is not the case, with 2021 being the highest year for renewable energy production to date.
In order to continue increasing the use of renewable energy, the UK government recently announced £ 265million in renewable energy grants. The grants will help finance and develop ongoing projects to install new wind farms (both onshore and offshore), solar panel installations and alternative energy sources.
Of the £ 265million, £ 200million will be used to fund offshore wind farms as it is currently the largest contributor to power generation in the UK (for renewables). £ 55million will be allocated to emerging technologies, including tides, with the remainder being used to help onshore projects including wind and solar.
It should be noted that the recent COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on the economy in general. There have been complaints about the amount of grants lower than that of the years 2014-2016. Industry experts such as Dan McGrail (CEO of Renewable UK) have said the grants could lead to private investments in Britain’s energy sector worth more than £ 20 billion. Such an investment helps to increase the overall supply of renewable energy and helps to increase employment and education opportunities in the energy sector.
While the push to increase the use of renewable energy is good for the climate and the environment as a whole, it presents a major challenge to engineers; energy reliability. If all non-renewable energies were to disappear today, they could easily be replaced by renewable sources as the raw material and resources exist. However, energy reliability could not be adequately managed, as the energy generated by renewables matched demand.
Unlike gas or coal-fired power plants, renewables only produce electricity when their energy source is available. As the sun is not always shining and the wind is not blowing constantly, renewables cannot always meet the demand on the grid. If the grid demand is too great, the control systems may fail to cause the power grid to shut down (for safety reasons).
To overcome this, we need to develop energy storage technologies capable of storing renewable energy when it is produced in excess, and then supplying it to the grid when renewable energy production is at its lowest. For example, a large grid battery can store energy from solar panels during the day, where the energy demand may be at its lowest. The grid battery can then feed this stored energy back into the grid at night when the solar panels can no longer provide electricity, but demand is at its peak.
However, energy storage technologies have a long way to go. Unless commercial energy storage solutions can be developed (be it a battery, hydraulic pump, or compressed air), renewables will always depend on gas and other reliable energy sources.