Newly published UK energy statistics show that renewable electricity generation increased by around 20% in just a single year so that 29.3% of electricity consumed came from renewables in 2017 (15% wind power, 4% solar pv, 2% natural flow hydro and 8% various biomass sources). As Dr David Toke describes in his blog on the figures, at least 80% of the offshore windfarms now in different stages of planning come online in the next 7 years, as might reasonably be expected, then renewable energy will contribute some 50% of total UK electricity generation by 2025. Of course, that ignores all other possible sources of electricity.
And this despite that fact that we have a government that has been actively suppressing most forms of renewables to make space for their favoured options of nuclear and gas, particularly domestic shale gas, destroying tens of thousands of jobs in the process.
What is the best that could have happened had the government tried to maximise renewables use rather than limit it to fit their pro-energy-incumbency prejudices?
A study in 2015 by top renewable-energy researchers from UK’s Imperial College, Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute and Italy’s CNER-IMEM revealed the incredible potential they have squandered so far.
Barnham, Knorr and Mazzer present their results in a single diagram of four parts. To understand it, one thing is key: the lines labelled KKK represent a study conducted of the requirements for an all-renewable electricity grid in Germany: the Kombikraftwerk project. To use the authors’ own words, this project “scaled down the real-time demand of the German grid by a factor of 10,000 and compared it with the real-time power supplied by PV and onshore wind generators. Software then instructed biogas electricity generators and a pumped hydro-storage element to balance supply and demand at all times throughout 2006. This analysis demonstrated that the German electricity power demand could be met mainly by onshore wind and PV, with back-up supplied by 17% biogas electric power and 5% storage power.”
I invite readers to peruse the original paper (it is short – only two pages), have a study of the diagram, and then try not to weep for the lost opportunities as you read what Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham, Distinguished Research Fellow at Imperial College, and the lead author, has to say by way of elaboration for Future Today.
“For PV the broken gray line shows what would happen in the UK if PV continued expanding as Germany had 7 years earlier (green). Note that by 2020 we would have reached the horizontal grey line which is the PV contribution to an all-renewable German electricity supply adjusted for UK conditions. For onshore and offshore wind the dotted lines are the extrapolations of past performance hitting the gray horizontal lines in KKW targets in 2022 and 2021 respectively. The bio-electricity is particularly interesting as on past performance the UK would have achieved its all-renewable target by 2025, before Germany as you see: the lines would have crossed around 2019. The 15% flexible bio-electricity contribution is crucial in both countries. So, but for the governments’ cuts to UK renewables programmes, the all-renewable targets could have been reached before Hinkley Point C even starts up!”