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WWF: Clean Energy Future ‘within Our Grasp’

By Philpickin @philpickin

Ambitious scenarios show renewables could meet between 60-90% of UK electricity demand by 2030
A new report by WWF has said that renewable sources of energy could meet between 60-90% of the UK’s electricity demand by 2030, and recommends that the government sets its target at no less than 60% for renewable energy generation to provide certainty for investors.
The UK could have an affordable and sustainable power system by taking ambitious action to reduce its demand for electricity, providing stable investment certainty for the renewables industry and moving towards greater interconnection with Europe.  
The report, Positive Energy, found that with a strong focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency, it is possible to largely decarbonise the UK power sector and maintain system security without resorting to new nuclear power. A wide range of organisations have welcomed the report's contribution to the energy debate and supported many or all of its recommendations [1].
The report, based on modelling by GL Garrad Hassan (GL GH), developed six scenarios for the UK’s electricity system in 2030. The scenarios, which differ according to the level of electricity demand and the use of different methods for providing system security – ensuring that there is no risk of ‘the lights going out’ – all achieve the near decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
More interconnection, higher renewables
WWF is also calling for better interconnection and market integration with Europe; if this happens, the report’s most ambitious scenarios show that renewables could meet almost 90% of UK electricity demand by 2030. This would create a springboard for the UK to become a net exporter of clean energy to the rest of Europe.
High levels of interconnection would also mean that much less new gas-fired capacity would be needed in the UK to ensure system security thus reducing costs and the amount of infrastructure needing to be built. WWF warned against over-reliance on gas, as this risks a ‘lock-in’ to high-carbon infrastructure, which would undermine efforts to reduce emissions and increase reliance on imported and costly fossil fuels.
Commenting on the report, David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “This report is inspiring, but also entirely realistic. It shows that a clean, renewable energy future really is within our grasp. If we seize this opportunity, it will lay the foundations for a clean industrial revolution in the UK, with all the jobs and export opportunities that brings, as well as being a major step forward in tackling climate change.
“Investing in clean energy therefore offers us a means to tackle the two most crucial market failures that now confront the world – the financial crisis and climate change. The only question that remains is, are we bold enough to take it?”
Energy efficiency & capital costs
The report also found that strong support for renewables now can significantly reduce their costs in the future [2]. It concludes that a strong renewable energy target for 2030 and stable financial support mechanisms are key to substantially reducing the cost of renewable energy for the UK, building a strong platform for investment and maximising employment opportunities from this new industrial sector [3].
In addition, Positive Energy found that affordability and sustainability can work hand in hand, with energy efficiency measures massively reducing costs for consumers. The report shows that ambitious action on energy efficiency could reduce the capital costs of generation and interconnection by up to £40bn by 2030 and that a concerted drive to reduce energy demand in households has the potential to more than offset the costs of meeting renewable energy goals [4].
Investor certainty critical
WWF also argued that the government needs to provide the level of certainty for investors willing to make large-scale investment in the UK renewables supply chain by making a greater long-term commitment to a target of at least 60% renewables in the UK’s energy mix by 2030. The report also said there was a need for stable market arrangements which provide long-term revenue certainty to reduce risk and mobilise capital investment in renewables.
David Nussbaum said: “Harnessing UK renewables potential will help to reduce the volatility of UK consumer bills, as they won’t be at the mercy of fossil fuel price fluctuations, which have driven the majority of price rises in recent years. Examples from other countries, as well as industry projections, show that renewable energy could also create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the UK [5].
“Failure to commit to a high-renewables future would leave us facing the prospect of dangerous levels of climate change and high energy prices. The opportunity offered by the clean energy revolution is one that we cannot afford to miss.”
The report's findings on the potential of renewable electricity are far more ambitious than those put forward by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in its Renewable Energy Review in May and by several other studies by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
However, renewable build rates in the WWF scenarios to 2020 are lower than the government’s own forecasts contained in its National Renewable Energy Action Plan and significantly below industry projections on realistic build rates. The difference is that in WWF’s scenarios rather than build rates ‘falling off a cliff’ post 2020, growth is maintained providing long term opportunities for industrial growth.

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