Renewable energy making positive strides for the future

30 January 2017

Renewable energy is growing increasingly vital to sustaining our energy usage and combatting carbon emissions. That’s why we’re pleased to see production levels renewable sources – wind energy in particular – on the rise.

Electricity generated by wind farms in the UK last year overtook levels of coal-fired energy production for the first time. A report by Carbon Brief found that wind generation contributed 11.5% of the country’s total annual power usage, while the figure for coal was 9.2%. Not only does this mark the first ever instance of wind energy superseding coal, but also coal’s output at its lowest levels since 1935.

This news follows on from Carbon Brief’s findings last May that solar produced more electricity than coal for the first full month. Of course, the length of spring and summer days will have had a significant effect on the level of solar energy. An increased investment in technology in recent years has helped to boost renewable energy generation levels to these milestone points.

The flipside of this news means that we’ve also seen significant reductions in CO2 levels from power generation in the UK. With coal broadly being replaced by gas as a fuel source, it’s estimated by Carbon Brief’s analysis that emissions would have fallen by approximately 20% over the course of 2016.

Reaching milestones

As we look towards a future of renewable, cleaner energy production, the Green Investment Bank (GIB) has established the world’s first dedicated Offshore Wind Fund to support the developments of offshore energy generation.

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Investment in wind energy has grown significantly over the last year

Eyeing up an asset target of £1bn, GIB finally passed this milestone earlier in January after acquiring a significant share in the Lincs wind farm offshore of Skegness. The Offshore Wind Fund already boasted a portfolio of assets including the Sheringham Shoal facility off the coast of Norfolk, as well as the North Wales-based wind farms at Rhyl Flats and Gwynt y Môr.

Now worth £1.12 billion, the GIB Offshore Wind Fund oversees more than 4,500 GWh of wind power per year – enough to power over a million UK homes and offset around two million tonnes of environmentally harmful emissions.

While GIB has stated that the Lincs acquisition is likely to be the fund’s final investment, Chief Executive Shaun Kingsbury noted: “In setting up an offshore wind fund, GIB has created an innovative way to connect deep pools of long term capital to UK green infrastructure projects.” He also pointed out that continuing this growth would be dependent on other investors focusing on renewables.

Fluctuating investments

Despite such significant progress and spending on wind energy, investments in renewable energy on a global scale has dropped in the last year. Even though offshore wind projects saw global spending reach just under $30bn (£24bn) in 2016 – a rise of 40% compared to the previous year – overall investment across clean energy production was actually down by 18%.

While the UK has been one of the leaders in further investments, China and Japan both saw rapid declines in spending, reportedly down to slowdown in the Chinese economy and falling costs of solar power. The drop in spending, however, hasn’t affected the total number of clean energy installations.

Technological advances in recent years has actually allowed for more cost-effective solutions to energy production from renewable sources, as noted by Jon Moore, the Chief Executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “The offshore wind record last year shows that this technology has made huge strides in terms of cost-effectiveness and in proving its reliability and performance.”

Will it last?

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Coal power plants in the UK are set to be phased out in the next decade

The UK government is still committed to its targets on drastically cutting carbon emissions, with consumption of renewable energies expected to be cheaper than electricity produced by fossil fuels by the year 2025 – the year it is expected coal-burning plants will ultimately be decommissioned.

To reach this goal, however, it’s vital that investments in the renewable sector don’t waver. After the government ended subsidies for onshore wind farms last year, there’s been the worry that investment in the sector could stop growing.

Further to this, the direction of clean energy investment in the USA – one of the largest producers of CO2 emissions – has also become a concern following the recent appointment of President Trump. Under new energy plans in the US, the coal industry could be revived, alongside backtracking on climate change policies set out by the Obama administration.

Despite this, many other world leaders continue to stress the importance of cleaner energy production, as well as predictions from throughout the industry pointing towards renewables becoming the fastest growing energy source over the coming decades.