Implementing energy efficiency measures alone will not meet net zero carbon targets. Renewable energy sources are critical to meeting the UK’s electricity needs. Does wind hold the answer?

Climate change is here. Shifting weather patterns are causing record high temperatures, days of rainfall in a matter of hours, and raging wildfires worldwide. Only by changing our behaviours can we tackle climate change and global warming. 

The UK government is on the move towards carbon net zero. As a global leader, it was the first major economy to commit to a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050. In a white paper, the UK outlined its plans on how our energy system will transition to achieve the UK’s net zero goals.  

COP26 CEO Peter Hill identified 4 priorities for countries to achieve the stretching targets set for COP26:

  • accelerate the phase-out of coal
  • prevent deforestation
  • speed up the switch to electric vehicles
  • encourage investment in renewables

The UK has made progress in several areas, including phasing out coal and investing in renewable energy. The UK’s net zero future will be shaped by renewable energy, which will drive the green industrial revolution. 

Pivoting from fossil fuels to renewables

The UK is gaining ground in reducing the use of coal for electricity. Last year coal accounted for only 1.8% of the UK’s electricity mix, compared with 40% almost a decade ago. In 2021, the UK went 5,000 hours without coal-fired electricity. Pivoting away from fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas paves the way toward renewable generation. 

Renewable energy generation produces electricity where the input fuel comes from a renewable source including wind, solar, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass. Earlier this year the UK broke a new wind power record, generating just over a third of the country’s energy from wind.  

Our customers are accelerating plans to meet carbon net-zero by 2030. Many are introducing energy efficiency measures as the first step to reduce the electricity demand. The bulk of the required changes revolve around using LED bulbs, installing energy management systems, and changing how buildings are heated and insulated. 

However, these changes alone will not meet the target. How customers source energy is crucial, and more renewable generation forms part of the answer.  

Renewable energy is key to electricity demand 

In the UK, the volume of renewable energy generation has grown from 6.9% in 2010 to 37% in 2019. In recent years, the upsurge in renewable energy generation has been driven by the dramatically increasing capacity for renewable generators, with UK capacity rising by 6.5% in 2019 to reach 47,163MW.

New renewable generation capacity needs to be built to replace ageing fossil fuel and nuclear power plants and power the additional demand for electric vehicles and heating. According to the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios, on average, there is a need to increase renewable capacity from 40GW in 2019 to 88GW in 2030 and 186GW in 2050.

By switching to renewable energy sources, our customers can help the development of new renewable capacity in two ways: 

  • directly, by investing in new to earth projects through our Heat Networks and Electricity Generation Assets (HELGA) DPS
  • indirectly, by purchasing one of our green options through our Supply of Energy framework

For example, many customers have or are starting to install on-site generation on top of car ports at hospitals and fallow land next to a depot.  

Wind: the UK’s largest renewable electricity source

By the beginning of September 2021, the UK had 10,973 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of over 24.2GW, the sixth-largest capacity of any country in 2019. The UK Government has committed to a significant expansion of offshore capacity by 2030.

The UK recently announced its intent to increase its installed capacity for offshore wind generation to 40GW by 2030, increasing overall wind capacity to over 50GW, in line with its commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Other renewable energy sources

Bioenergy now represents a sixth of UK generation capacity, with an 11.5% share of generation in 2019. Solar generators produced 1.4% more electricity in 2019 than in the previous year. Most UK solar farms are in England, where generation increased by 1.1%. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, solar generation rose by 9.1%, 5.7% and 1.2%, respectively.

The vast majority of the UK’s hydro generation assets are in Scotland, where generation increased 7.4% on the previous year. This was in line with a 5.5% increase in UK rainfall, weighted by the location of UK hydro resources, as hydro capacity remained unchanged.

Lean into renewable energy

As the nation’s largest public sector procurement organisation, we are working hard to develop innovative solutions to help the public sector achieve its net zero carbon goals. As a result, many natural synergies exist between the solutions CCS is developing for the public sector and the priorities set by the Government for COP26. 

Our energy team is here to help develop the necessary processes and products for our customers. The team works collaboratively, exploring the ways new and existing developments can be maximised and by reaching out to our suppliers to create innovative solutions. 

Using our frameworks can help the UK speed up its investment in renewable energy generation and phase out the use of coal. First, our supply of energy framework offers green tariffs to ensure energy is linked to a renewable energy asset. Our HELGA framework covers renewable energy generation, demand management, and sustainability. 

We are here to help

Whether you are just starting or already underway with your net zero carbon journey, we have several solutions that can help. So get in touch, visit our carbon net zero webpage, or download the 3 step energy guide.