Official energy statistics published today by the UK government report that the UK has missed its indicative renewable energy target for 2011-12.
As a result the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will have to submit an amended national renewable energy action plan to the European Commission by 30th June 2014, setting out measures to get the country back ‘on track’.
The means that the UK is the only Member State which has failed to meet both 2011 and 2013 indicative targets and which is expected not to reach its 2020 target.
“This is a near miss. 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,” commented Renewable Energy Association (REA) chief executive Gaynor Hartnell.
The 2011-12 UK figure shows that 3.94% of energy comes from renewables, 0.1% short of the indicative target of 4.04%. Meanwhile, the majority of the EU-27 had already met their 2011-12 indicative targets by the end of 2011. According to the latest EUROSTAT data, the UK remains 25th out of the 27 EU Member States on the share of renewables in its heating system, power supply and transport fuels. The UK’s 2020 target is one of the lowest across the EU-27 (15%), and requires one of the highest annual growth rates (16.5% year-on-year to 2020).
“It’s best to get it out of the water now or it’ll start getting grazed by the little beasties,” says Lars Brunner as he hauls 50kg of glistening, translucent kelp from the dark waters of the Sound of Kerrera into the boat. The long summer days mean the seaweed is rapidly storing up sugars, which snails and barnacles find delicious.
“You can eat it, but whether it tastes good is debatable,” says Brunner. He is also after the sugars, but for a different reason. His work at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (Sams), with parallel projects in Ireland and Norway, is part of a growing worldwide effort aiming to turn the centuries-old seaweed industry into a major source of environmentally friendly biofuels.
The seaweed is farmed in a picture-perfect sea fjord that once hosted a fish farm, near Oban in Argyll, where craggy, green hills overlook the loch. “It’s a very good site,” says Brunner. “It has really nice currents; the seaweed needs the water to flow over the blades so they can capture the nutrients they need.”
Many millions of pounds are being invested in seaweed research from Vietnam to Israel to Chile because producing biofuels in the sea removes at a stroke many of the serious problems with conventional biofuels. Though important as greener alternatives to oil, many biofuels are produced from food crops, such as corn and sugar, which drives up global prices in a world where a billion people are already hungry. Biofuel production also consumes increasingly scarce freshwater and the worst examples – those from palm oil – can produce more carbon dioxide than diesel.
“Seaweed does not have any of those problems,” says Phil Kerrison, another marine scientist, back at the Sams labs. Seaweed farming has even been shown to clean up the pollution from fish farms and kelp grows far more quickly than land plants, turning sunlight into chemical energy five times more efficiently.
Kerrison pulls a square of plush red carpet from a tank, strewn with the tan-coloured kelp. “Carpet is very good as a growth substrate,” he says. “It has a rough surface, but then it also holds a lot of water making it very heavy and putting strain on the moorings.” His task is to find the best material to farm the seaweed on, but he is cautious of revealing too much as there are significant commercial interests at stake.
A trial of the largest battery in Europe, which proponents hope will transform the UK electricity grid and boost renewable energy is due to start in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.
The trial of cutting-edge energy storage technology will test new methods of capturing electricity for release over long periods, evening out the bumps and troughs of supply and demand that plague the electricity grid. Finding ways of storing power from wind and solar generation is key to maintaining a constant source of energy.
But storage technology has been difficult to translate from small devices such as batteries and laptops to the enormous scale needed to balance demand and supply on the national grid.
At the electricity substation serving Leighton Buzzard, three companies are hoping to deploy one of the biggest batteries ever constructed, using lithium manganese technology. The £18.7m project will form the centrepiece of a trial of energy storage that could have far-reaching implications for the renewables sector. The three companies – S&C Electric Europe, Samsung SDI and Younicos – have gained £13.2m backing from the UK taxpayer for their 6 megawatt capacity battery installation, which will absorb and release energy to meet the demands of the grid. The first results are not expected until 2016.
Almost 40% of farmers are using clean energy across the UK, compared to just 5% in 2010, according to a new survey. However, the majority feel the full potential of renewables is not being met.
The joint research, Farms as power stations by Nottingham Trent University, Forum for the Future and Farmers Weekly, collected the opinions of around 700 farmers.
Although a large number have chosen to adopt renewable sources of energy – especially solar, wind and biomass energy – 76% believes renewable energy can still achieve a lot more in the agriculture industry.
Professor Eunice Simmons, the dean of Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said, “It’s very positive news that renewables are becoming more popular with UK farmers – and this trend looks set to continue over the coming years.
Re-commissioned mothballed power plants will help keep the lights on, according to the energy minister.
Michael Fallon told the BBC’s Sunday Politics there would not be blackouts or energy rationing UK because mothballed plants will help meet the capacity demand, with margins expected to tighten by the middle of the decade.
He said: “They’re [National Grid] looking – and they should be looking – at some recently mothballed plant to make sure the operators of that plant are ready, if the plant is needed, to bring it onto the system.”
System operator, National Grid, has proposed that energy intensive industries reduce their power demand between 4pm and 8pm during the winter at times of peak demand, to ensure there are not blackouts.
Industrial gas users could be paid by the National Grid to turn off some or all of their machinery if the UK ever faces a gas supply “emergency”.
Under new plans by the regulator Ofgem, large gas consumers will be able to put themselves forward to cut their gas demand, in contracts bid for in advance, if there is a shortage.
The payments are one strand of a shake-up to the rules to make sure the UK can always get enough gas. Since the North Sea reserves have dwindled, the UK depends significantly on gas shipments from overseas.
The current contingency plan for a crisis – for example if a shipper fails to buy enough gas to cover its UK customers’ obligations – it has to pay charges to the National Grid, the national gas pipeline operator. This is called the “cash-out” price and it is frozen at a relatively low level. On top of this, gas supplies could be restricted to customers.
Freight firms are concerned about the “time-consuming and burdensome” cost of plans for all businesses to carry out an energy audit.
The Government wants to bring in a mandatory energy audit called the Energy Opportunities Saving Scheme (ESOS) and is consulting on how best to do this.
The rule will keep the UK in line with the EU Energy Efficiency Directive which demands large companies must conduct energy audits every four years, with the first to be done by 5 December 2015.
Such commercial scale projects now have a combined capacity in the UK of more than 4.7 GW, generating GBP768m (US$1.2bn) worth of power, and accounting for 12% of all renewable energy generation.
The report found that the number of on-site projects developed by businesses on manufacturing or retail sites increased by 53 per cent and generated more than GBP80m worth of electricity.
The report analysed figures supplied by Ofgem.
The food and drink industry, manufacturing and retail sectors all delivered strong growth for the on-site renewables sector, with solar accounting for nearly half of the new on-site capacity.
Wind turbines (pictured) represented 37 per cent of new on-site capacity.
RenewableUK deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: “This important new research shows just how valuable renewable energy is to farmers at a tough time for crop yields.
“Farmers have always worked with the countryside and depend on the weather to make their living and it’s good to see small-scale wind turbines playing their part in this. The UK’s small wind industry leads the world, and there’s a beautiful synchronicity in turbines manufactured in Loughborough turning in fields in Lincolnshire.”
The research did, however, find that some 80% of the 700 farmers quizzed wanted to see consistent government policy and more than half said the cumbersome and costly planning process is a problem.
The UK is in danger of missing its 2020 target to get 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources, experts have warned.
According to research coordinated by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) on 11 EU member states, only three are on track to meet their targets: Austria, Italy and Sweden.
The “Keep on Track” report expresses “serious doubts” about whether Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Portugal will hit theirs, while Belgium, Poland, Spain and the UK are expected to fail.
“It’s plain sailing for the 21 Member States who have already achieved their 2012 targets in 2011,” said EREC president Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes.
“However, there are worrying signs on the horizon as current growth rates are insufficient to meet the 2020 targets. EU Member States should create and implement predictable and stable legislative frameworks for renewable energy sources.”