Despite such apparent rapid growth in the eco-energy sector, IEA have estimated that the total global use of renewable energy will rise by around 1% in 2020, even with Covid-19 and the resulting widespread supply chain disruption that significantly reduced carbon emissions. However, the UK has seen substantive growth over the past decade, and this 1% should not deem the UK’s efforts as a failure.
In 2010, the UK generated over 75 per cent of its electricity from coal and natural gas, with both being the most prevalent sources for energy for decades before. Now, in 2020, fossil fuel generation has reached a record low at 35.4 per cent. Further, the UK operated over 3,300 hours without coal, which amounts to over 60 per cent of the year. On the 16th June 2020, the UK saw a period of over two months without using any coal-fired power for the first time since before the Industrial Revolution, now being over 138 years ago.
In 2010, the UK failed to meet their 2010 target of generating 10 per cent of electricity by a very large margin, also failing to commit to renewable sources set by the 2001 EU Renewables Directive. During this time, renewable energy sources accounted for a very trivial 6.5 per cent of all electricity demand in 2010. The UK’s renewable energy target for 2020 doubled within a decade, with measures in place to achieve at least 20 per cent of electricity produced to come from green energy sources. However, the UK demonstrated a resounded success, transcending their initial ambitions by a landslide. Renewable energy sources accounted for 47 per cent of UK generation in the first quarter of 2020.
Just a decade ago, wind generated at most 10.3 TWh of electricity in the UK, representing a very insignificant 2.7 per cent total of UK energy generation. Ten years later in 2020, wind power generated 30 per cent of the UK’s electricity in the first quarter, beating the previous record in the final months of 2019. Over 8,000 wind turbines are now installed across the UK and there are plans to accelerate the deployment of both onshore and offshore wind with some of the biggest projects in Europe in the pipeline, with some already operating or under construction in Scotland and Wales. The UK alone produces enough onshore and offshore wind to power at least 4.5 million homes, with a greater installed capacity than any other country.
Biomass is now the UK’s second biggest source of renewable energy which uses plant-based fuels, which levels have increased by 12 per cent when compared to 2017 level now accounting for 11 per cent of UK electricity.
In 2010, solar power represented a very, very small percentage of electricity production in the UK, just like onshore and offshore wind and biomass energy production. The Solar power industry has likewise boomed and is now the third most generated renewable energy in the UK after wind power and biomass, generating a total of 13 per cent of electricity from renewable sources. The UK solar market from 2010 to 2015 received over £11.4 billion in investment, which continued to rise and has made the industry the success that it is today.
This decade marks the first time in UK history that our total energy usage from renewable sources has exceeded gas. Since 2010, it is undoubtable that the UK population has grown environmentally conscious and our Government, in response, has significantly improved policies, programmes and investments. The years 2010-2020 can be labelled as the decade which prepared the UK for the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, as although we have seen significant success since 2010, much more is yet to come.
In 2020, the energy sector took one of the largest impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. With vast travel restrictions, lockdowns and the temporary closing down of large businesses and factories, energy demand and oil prices slumped, member countries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, known as OPEC (For example, Malaysia, Mexico and Russia) agreed to make sharp production cuts in order to stabilise prices, investments into coal, oil and gas dropped whilst investments into a renewable transition strengthened and the greener energy industry grew stronger and remained resilient. Arguably, this short term impact, which enhanced the eco-energy sector was due to the impacts of Covid-19:
In response to the fall in oil, gas and coal demands, the UK, French and German Government’s and large company investment into renewable energy boomed. For more detailed information on this, visit our previous article within this series ‘Did the COVID-19 pandemic open an opportunity for a ‘Green Recovery?‘.
Global energy demand declined by 3.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, global coal demand was hit the hardest, falling by over 7 per cent when compared to its demand in the same quarter in 2019. Oil demand took a nearly 5 per cent reduction in demand and gas was reduced by around 2 per cent. On the other hand, renewables were the only source that could report a growth in demand. It is expected for this renewable demand to increase, despite the capital investment required this is partly due to low operating costs and preferential access to many power systems, also due to Government backing (especially across European leading powers).
So… How much has the UK’s energy market changed over the past decade? The market and attitudes towards the use of eco-energy have changed enormously beyond the expectations and targets set initially, with both large companies and international super powers contributing to the market change and supporting the move away from traditional, harmful energy production. Offshore and onshore wind, Biomass, Solar energy and other sources of renewable energy are becoming more popular as energy industries, supply chains and markets are changing. The big challenge for slowing down climate change now is to maintain or even increase this momentum and encourage others to follow suit; especially persuading the 3 biggest economies on the planet – the USA, China and Russia – to join the Green Industrial Revolution.
What are your predictions for change across the forthcoming decade?
This was our fourth and final piece to our Thought Leadership series “The Green Industrial Revolution”. Click the links below to read our other papers:
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