Delivering a green recovery with UK renewable power

  • Posted: 16 Jul 2020

Onshore renewables could boost UK economy by £28.9bn by 2035

We are calling on the UK Government to unblock the blockers to ‘shovel-ready’ renewable energy infrastructure to deliver investment, create new jobs and accelerate a green economic recovery from COVID-19.

Our analysis, which you can read in full here, shows that:

  • There is a £66.5 billion potential investment opportunity for the UK between now and 2035 – £4.75 billion per year (£2.75 billion onshore wind).2
  • Unlocking this potential could deliver:
    • 45,000 new jobs3 and;
    • £28.9bn pumped into the UK economy by 2035.2
    • And save UK consumers up to £1.5bn a year.6
  • The UK’s legal obligation to achieve net zero carbon emissions is providing a significant investment opportunity – 5GW of onshore renewables must be rolled out every year between now and 2035 to be on track. This is more than triple the amount approved over the last year.1,2
  • Action by the Government is essential to unlock the enormous potential of onshore renewable energy to deliver immediate investment, jobs and UK green growth.
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Our analysis explores how policy changes and planning guidance have been blocking the growth of the onshore renewables market for over four years. We call on the Government to deliver supportive policies that could unlock immediate private sector investment in new infrastructure, stimulate economic growth and help accelerate towards our legally-binding 2050 net zero target.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or – in this case – the wind turbine and solar panel. UK renewables have enormous potential that can be unlocked, fast. We already have what we need: abundant natural resources, proven technology, lowest ever costs and the right skills. We are calling on the UK Government to stimulate the green recovery and deliver real, immediate and measurable impact on our economy. By providing policy certainty and creating a more positive environment for onshore renewables, the Government can unleash huge private sector investment, create thousands of jobs and deliver a greener, cleaner UK for us all.” Matthew Clayton, Managing Director

Unblocking the blockers

Our analysis recommends two simple and cost neutral actions that the UK Government should implement urgently to drive new investment and accelerate recovery:

Deliver policy stability

UK policy is like crazy paving at the moment. Electricity generated by different sources is priced differently due to the varying support levels and changes in energy policies over the last 20 years. This makes it extremely challenging to make informed, long-term, investment decisions, hence the current lack of investment. New onshore renewables are currently the only electricity source which is wholly reliant on selling on the open market. The Government must demonstrate clear support by delivering long-term, simple energy policies that allow investment decisions to be based on market fundamentals.

Certainty over mechanisms, such as the price stabilising Contract for Difference auctions, would support the business case for renewable energy and ultimately lead to the UK being able to better utilise the benefits of its abundant natural resources – wind, sunshine and rain.

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Remove planning blockers

Unlike any other form of development, new onshore wind applications in England have to demonstrate to planners that the project is sited within an area designated for wind development by the local authority, within the local plan. However, the lifecycle of local plans can be 30 years, and many have therefore not been updated since that requirement came into place in 2015.

This effectively means planning permission is automatically blocked for new onshore wind projects in much of England. Two thirds of local authorities have declared a climate emergency, but many have not had the time to reflect this in their local plan. They therefore may not be able to grant planning consent to well-sited, appropriately-sized wind farms which will contribute to the UK’s net-zero targets. By removing this one piece of red tape from the National Planning Policy Framework, the UK Government could unleash investment and deliver lower bills and cleaner energy supply for UK consumers and businesses.

There is also no uniform approach to life extension and repowering, which has the potential to generate more clean power, more cheaply using modern infrastructure. Without a uniform approach to planning, the risk for potential developers is too high and many are not able to justify the business case to make repowering happen. Every £1 of investment which can be de-risked will lower the cost of energy for UK homes and businesses.

Renewables - the obvious choice

Our analysis highlights how onshore renewables are quicker to build and cheaper than nuclear and gas generation:

  • Renewables are much faster to deploy than nuclear: In the same two years spent moving soil and laying the foundations of Hinkley Point C, sufficient new renewable capacity was commissioned and had delivered power equivalent to the nuclear site’s total planned generation (22GWh annually).4
  • Onshore wind is cheaper than gas: New onshore wind can deliver power at £49 per MWh today – 12.5% cheaper than gas generation. This trend is only set to continue with the cost of renewable generation expected to continue its decline.5

“Renewables are the obvious choice for the Government to take in driving our economic recovery, helping to Build Back Better and deliver a net-zero carbon emission society.” Matthew Clayton, Managing Director

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Repowering existing renewable power

Another opportunity to stimulate the expansion of renewables is to enable existing sites to be upgraded – “repowered” – with new and more advanced technology. The UK has almost 30GW of onshore renewable power generation. These wind, solar and hydro technologies are designed to operate for between 25-35 years. At the end of their life, rather than close down the site, the best approach is to replace the old wind or solar technology with latest turbines or panels. In the case of onshore wind, this can often result in fewer wind turbines with greater productivity.

Repowering is much cheaper than building on a new site – the infrastructure is already there such as access roads and grid connections – and quicker to develop. Caton Moor is a Thrive Renewables onshore wind site in Lancashire. The site was repowered in 2006. Eight new turbines were installed, capable of generating seven times the power of the previous 10. Caton Moor wind farm is now supplying more clean energy more efficiently to UK consumers.

Combining repowering with a programme of building new onshore renewables is another way to unlock the much needed long term growth potential of the sector.

 

 

[1] The Committee on Climate Change has consistently called for onshore wind and solar to be included in the Government’s renewable energy strategy. Total UK electricity supply will need to double by 2050, and electricity from low-carbon sources will need to quadruple, in order to deliver the UK’s commitment to become a Net Zero emissions economy by that year. https://www.theccc.org.uk/2020/03/03/ccc-welcomes-government-re-commitment-to-onshore-wind-and-solar/

[2] Trade bodies (RUK, STA and BHA), are suggesting 77MW of the required growth to hit net zero can be delivered by onshore renewables by 2035. This will require building 5.5GW of onshore renewable capacity annually between now and 2035. This creates an annual investment opportunity of £4.75bn. Of this £2.75bn is required to deliver onshore wind, £1.4bn Solar and £0.6bn Hydro (CAPEX estimates based on current market procurement). It is estimated that over 40% of the development and capital expenditure is UK content. The proportion of UK content renewable projects grows in the operational phase, estimated to be 66% for onshore wind. https://bvgassociates.com/economic-benefits-onshore-wind-farms/. The UK content of the development and construction of ground mounted solar PV is estimated to be 46%, growing to 68% in the operational phase (https://www.solar-trade.org.uk/sta-calls-for-government-to-commit-to-2030-solar-target-to-drive-green-recovery/ ).  The BHA estimate that 70% of CAPEX and OPEX of small hydro is UK content (http://www.british-hydro.org/hydro-facts/)

[3] Job creation calculations based on estimates from industry associations. Wind 18,800, Solar 22,800, Hydro 3,250

[4] Hinkley Point C

  • Capacity – 3260MW
  • Homes equivalent – 6,000,000
  • Estimated annual generation – 22,374,000 GWh
  • Began construction – 2016

https://www.edfenergy.com/energy/nuclear-new-build-projects/hinkley-point-c/about

Non thermal renewable generation (natural flow hydro, wind, wave and solar PV)

Year

GWh

Change GWh

2016

53015

 

2017

66949

13934

2018

74960

8011

 

TOTAL:

21,945.00 GWh

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/historical-electricity-data

[5] https://www.vivideconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Quantifying_the_Benefits_of-report-.pdf, https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/uk_solar_costs_plummeting_beyond_forecasts_as_cheap_as_40_mwh_by_2030

[6] Saving calculated using Arup (2018) Cost of Capital Benefits or Revenue Stabilisation via a Contract for Difference: https://www.arup.com/perspectives/publications/research/section/onshore-wind-financing,  Multiplied by the anticipated growth of onshore renewable projects from RUK, STA and BHA (see footnote 2), and the number of UK households https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/adhocs/005374totalnumb.