UK Misses its Renewable Energy Target for 2011/12
The UK has missed its 2011/12 target of producing four per cent of energy from renewable sources, and has seen a sharp rise in the use of coal for energy, statistics released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) have shown.
1st August 2013 | Annie Reece: Resource Magazine
The ‘Digest of United Kingdom energy statistics’ (DUKES), released yesterday (25 July) show that provisional calculations put the UK’s renewable energy consumption at 4.1 per cent, up from the 2011 rate of 3.8 per cent. According to the report, this was due to ‘significant growth in the contribution of renewable electricity, [whilst] the renewable heating contribution remained constant, but the renewable transport contribution fell’.
Despite the rise in renewable energy consumption, across 2011 and 2012, the UK achieved an estimated average of 3.94 per cent, less than the 4.04 per cent target set out in the 2009 EU Renewable Directive.
However, the DUKES report explains that the figure is within the ‘margin of error’: ‘Calculating the average contribution across these two years [2011/12] shows that provisionally the UK achieved 3.94 per cent, thus falling short by 275 ktoe (thousand tonnes of oil equivalent, or 3,200 gigawatt hours) of directive compliant renewable energy.’
It continues: ‘DECC's normal practise in reporting deployment of renewables is to calculate rates to one decimal place, which recognises the uncertainty in estimates of both renewables and final energy consumption... As such whilst the estimate of 3.94 per cent is our best estimate, users should be aware that the uncertainty attached to this estimate would cover the 275 ktoe shortfall.’
Missed target comes as 'little surprise'
Chief Executive of the Renewables Energy Association (REA), Gaynor Hartnell, cited government’s recent distancing from biomass as a contributing factor to the missed target: “This is a near miss”, she said. “Had Government interfered less with its existing policies for biomass power, stuck to its timetable on the Renewable Heat Incentive, or laid out a clear framework for biofuels, then it would almost certainly have met its indicative target.”
Peter Rolton, former advisor on government's Renewables Advisory Board and current Chairman of engineering company the Rolton Group added: “Whilst it’s obviously disappointing that the UK has missed its interim renewables target, it can come as little surprise. Substantial overestimations of the potential for marine technology have been compounded by investor uncertainty throughout the sector and the significant underinvestment in bioenergy, as Gaynor Hartnell has rightly pointed out. This is in addition to the poor publicity of supposedly flagship schemes such as the Green Deal, which in itself provides a continuing demonstration of governmental mismanagement.
"The powers that be have focused solely on the low-hanging fruit of solar and off-shore wind and have run a mile from the more challenging technologies: the existing built environment, district heating, biomass power generation and biofuels. These big-hitters are vital if we are to meet the legally binding 2020 target, and it is definitely time for foot-to-the-floor strategy if the UK is to succeed.”
Looking at electricity generated from renewables, the figures were more promising, with DUKES citing that electricity generated from renewable sources in the UK in 2012 increased by 19 per cent on a year earlier, and accounted for 11.3 per cent of total UK electricity generation (up from 9.4 per cent in 2011).
Further, the installed electrical generating capacity of renewable sources rose by 27 per cent in 2012 (from 2011 levels), ‘mainly as a result of a 27 per cent increase in onshore wind capacity, 63 per cent increase in offshore wind capacity, and solar photovoltaic capacity increasing by 71 per cent (due to high uptake of Feed in Tariffs)’.
Under the EU directive, the UK is required to produce 15 per cent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The DUKES report was released amongst three other energy related publications: ‘UK Energy in Brief’, ‘Energy Flow Chart’, and ‘Energy Consumption in the United Kingdom’ (web only) providing ‘detailed analysis of production, transformation and consumption of energy in 2012’.
Key points from these reports include:
- primary energy production fell by 10.7 per cent from the year before, due to ‘long-term decline and maintenance activity on the UK Continental Shelf’;
- final energy consumption rose by 1.7 per cent, reflecting ‘the colder weather in 2012’. However, the DECC states that ‘on a temperature adjusted basis’, energy consumption was down 0.7 per cent, ‘continuing the downward trend of the last eight years’;
- consumption of diesel road fuel exceeded the consumption of motor spirit in 2012 by over 8 million tonnes due ‘in part to increased substitution of diesel for motor spirit use in the UK’s car fleet’;
- energy imports (mainly from Norway) were at record levels in 2012, up 6.9 per cent on 2011 levels;
- the domestic sector was the largest electricity consumer in 2012 (114.7 terawatt hours (TWh)), while the industrial sector consumed 97.8 TWh, and the service sector consumed 101.0 TWh. Industrial consumption decreased by 4.4 per cent, while domestic consumption rose by 2.8 per cent;
- energy consumption in the transport sector fell by one per cent between 2011 and 2012;
- the increase in residential gas use, due to the cooler weather in 2012, ‘combined with fuel switching away from gas to coal for electricity generation’, provisionally increased emissions of carbon dioxide by four per cent in 2012;
- the energy industries’ accounted for 3.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.
Coal forms more than a third of UK energy mix
Despite the fact that a fifth of the UK’s power plants (including coal and gas) are expected to come offline by 2020, the UK saw a higher share of electricity produced from coal due to ‘increasing gas prices’. More than a third (39 per cent) of electricity came from the carbon-heavy source in 2012 (however, the domestic sector accounted for only 1.1 per cent of total coal consumption). This rise in coal reliance marks a 10 per cent increase on coal use from 2011.
The sharp increase in coal use marks another blow to the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), which was set up to deter businesses from using heavy-emission fuels by requiring them to buy permits for every tonne of carbon dioxide they emit. However, the system has proven ‘too weak’ to work effectively, with the price of the permits dropping to under €5 a piece earlier this year as member states and companies flooded the market with extra permits. The EU is now of the mind to withhold (or ‘backload’) ETS permits until 2018-20 to ‘rebalance supply and demand and to reduce price volatility without any significant impacts on competitiveness’ until it decides on ‘more structural measures’.
Speaking of the UK’s reliance on coal, Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace's Chief Scientific Advisor said that the government now needed to do more to reduce dependence on the ‘dirty fuel’. He said: “Old coal power plants are dominating the energy mix and far from helping us get off the coal hook, the government’s energy bill could entrench the situation.” Indeed, government has been criticised by businesses and environmental groups alike for failing to bring forward a target to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2020.
Parr continued: “Not only are old coal plants exempt from carbon pollution limits, but the government also proposes to use money from consumer bills to pay coal plants to stay open well into the next decade.
“The government needs to make good on its promises and reduce our reliance on this dirty fuel."
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