The renewables race: are we winning?

Plunging costs– by up to 90 per cent this century– have actually assisted to power a rapid expansion in solar photovoltaics (PV). The UK might not be all that bright, however contemporary solar PV is increasingly able to collect significant amounts of power, even when its cloudy.


Driven by quickly enhancing innovations, falling expenses and government financial backing, the UK now has around 11,000 wind turbines in operation, enough to produce a quarter of our electrical power requires.

The UK added 545MW in 2020 alone: a boost of over a quarter on 2019. Solar now satisfies well over 4 percent of our electrical energy needs. For Clayton, solars appeal is its predictability– while the amount of sunlight differs day to day, its fairly continuous over a year.

Together with quick advances in panel performance, and innovations such as tracking (where the panel follows the sun through the day), solar “has a huge role to play” in future, Clayton anticipates.

Although onshore wind stays the cheapest choice, its expansion is currently limited by preparing restrictions, particularly in England. Overseas plants have actually seen a rapid rise, and here the UK has great prospective, thanks to an extensive coastline and a shallow seabed.

The UK is the Saudi Arabia of wind. Where they have oil, we have the breeze. After years of lukewarm political support (Margaret Thatchers press secretary, Bernard Ingham, famously derided wind turbines as “lavatory brushes in the sky”), successive federal governments have actually begun to cotton on to their potential.

A marvelously generous subsidy plan a years or so earlier motivated thousands of householders to put solar on their roofs. Now, what Clayton refers to as the “absolutely shocking” fall in expenses means larger solar farms are commercially feasible without subsidy, stimulating growth that even a pandemic could not derail.

Onshore wind remains the most inexpensive option, but its expansion is restricted by planning restrictions. Image: Karsten Wurth

It is 2nd only to natural gas. “Its an extraordinary accomplishment,” says Matthew Clayton, managing director of renewable resource financial investment company Thrive Renewables.


It can seem as though a new renewables turning point is reached every week in the UK. So when it comes to infrastructure, release and innovation, where are we? Heres your fast guide

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Burning wood instead of coal to produce electrical power is the black sheep of the renewables household. On the plus side, the mass conversion of power generation company Draxs coal-fired plants in Yorkshire has boosted biomasss share of the UKs electrical energy production to 6.5 per cent..

The UKs commercial revolution was established on water power, and it still plays a small but significant part in our energy mix today, satisfying around 1.6 percent of electrical power requires in 2020 (the same as coal).


And as Clayton points out, the growing feet of electrical vehicles consists of a readymade small-scale storage network in the kind of their batteries, which can drip power to and from the grid as required.

Carbon capture innovation could make burning wood world favorable, fans say. Image: Alexander Schimmeck.


Batteries, by contrast, are the brand-new kid on the block when it comes to grid-balancing responsibilities. Economies of scale are driving down expense here too, allowing some seriously chunky battery farms to take shape, like the brand-new gigafactory to be constructed in Coventry. Smaller sized modules are practical too.

Saving solar and wind energy is key to unlocking the potential of renewables. Image: Red Zeppelin


Flourish is investing in a task at United Downs in Cornwall, which also has the potential to draw out lithium for batteries. “Three sustainable products from one task,” says Clayton, “is really, really favorable.”.

Proponents argue that integrating such plants with BECCS technology (biomass energy with carbon capture and storage), as Drax is developing, could even attain a net positive power plant– really reducing the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere. However the innovation is yet to be proven on a big scale, and issues mount regarding the future sustainability of bioenergy.

Tidal plants such as that proposed for Swansea Bay, while expensive, might one day generate a substantial share of our electrical energy needs.

What about those times when the sun doesnt shine, the wind doesnt blow? Response: storage. A well-established option is pumped storage: utilizing surplus power to pump water uphill into a tank, from where it can be launched when needed to drive turbines, just like a hydroelectric plant. This tried-and-tested technology might see “a four or fivefold” increase in the coming years, says Clayton. And as climate instability increases the requirement for reservoirs, these could play a dual function.

There is restored interest in fairly small-scale plants: “They can provide the versatility the grid requires,” states Clayton. The growing demand for tanks to keep water flowing through our taps creates an opportunity for larger-scale hydro power too.

Geothermal harnesses the natural heat in rocks deep beneath the Earths surface, utilizing it to produce steam that can drive electrical energy turbines 24/7, as well as offering heat for neighboring neighborhoods. While insignificant at present, it has considerable capacity, states Clayton, especially in locations like Cornwall.

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Thrive Renewables has built, or funded the building and construction of, 26 wind, solar, hydro and heat jobs. Find out more here.

Illustration: Andrea Manzati

It can seem as though a brand-new renewables milestone is reached every week in the UK. The UK is the Saudi Arabia of wind. The UK added 545MW in 2020 alone: a boost of over a quarter on 2019. Solar now meets well over 4 per cent of our electricity requires. For Clayton, solars appeal is its predictability– while the amount of sunshine differs day to day, its relatively consistent over a year.


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