Mind the gap: UK renewables set for a two-year go slow but “hidden” fuel can help

Despite recent progress on renewables, the UK looks set to face another go-slow period. © Rage With A Smile Photography

Despite recent progress on renewables, the UK looks set to face another go-slow period. © Rage With A Smile Photography

It’s was something of a blockbuster summer for the UK’s renewable energy industry, with a string of massive offshore wind farm projects taking significant steps – including the opening of the 630MW London Array offshore wind farm in the Outer Thames Estuary, and the go ahead for the 1200MW Triton Knoll project, planned off England’s east coast. The UK’s Offshore Wind Industrial Sector Strategy was also launched with a combined £66 million of funding attached to help strengthen domestic supply chains and bring new products to market.

As I write in my latest article for Renewable Energy Focus (see link to it below), “all this is just the tip of a very positive iceberg” – and anyone who thinks the UK public is against the construction of new wind farms onshore think again. A recent independent poll shows the British public is overwhelmingly in favour of them in fact.

It’s not all calm seas though. Political consensus on the volume of support to give to the renewables industry is still thin on the ground.  Failure to achieve the country’s renewables goals is a very real prospect, albeit one that can be easily rectified according to some. The Government simply needs to “narrow the scope of debate about technology mix beyond 2020”, says a new report published in the first week of September by independent think tank Carbon Connect.

Will that happen? With an election just two years away few seem to believe it will. Rather the opposite – a go slow looks more likely. Adam Workman, partner at 350 Investment Partners is warning that investors in the UK now essentially face a two-year wait before having any kind of real confidence in the long term, or in any strategy document published recently:

“A lot of the policy is aspirational at the moment and we won’t get clarity on that until after the next election,” Workman told me.

Indeed, energy is already being used by politicians of all persuasion as they begin to bang the election battle drums and this week of course we have seen Chancellor George Osbourne hailing the pending arrival of the Chinese as saviours of the UK’s nuclear power ambitions. Moreover, the UK’s big energy companies are unashamedly passing the buck for their massive price increases, blaming the UK’s green agenda for them – with the mainstream media seemingly falling for it too. And let’s not go into the whole fracking gas debate – as I have warned before, the renewables industry needs to start speaking out on this with a little more conviction and a little less fear.

Untapped potential

Meantime, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has noted that the world is effectively missing out on significant savings that can be made if it were to use its “first fuel”. It is referring to the use of energy efficiency measures. “The degree of global investment in energy efficiency and the resulting energy savings are so massive that they beg the following question: Is energy efficiency not just a hidden fuel but rather the world’s first fuel?” asked IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as she presented the agency’s Energy Efficiency Market Report at the World Energy Congress in Korea this week.

The IEA notes energy efficiency markets around the world drew investment of up to US$300 billion in 2011, a level on par with global investments in renewable energy or fossil-fuel power generation. From 2005 to 2010, efficiency measures saved the energy equivalent of US$ 420 billion worth of oil in a group of 11 IEA member countries.

“Had it not been for energy efficiency measures implemented in past years, consumers in those 11 IEA member countries would now be consuming – and thus paying for – about two-thirds more energy than they currently use.”

The IEA notes there is massive untapped potential to make savings through energy efficiency

The IEA notes there is massive untapped potential to make savings through energy efficiency

But far more can and should be done with a view to implementing energy efficiency measures to reduce energy demand, the IEA says. There is a “huge opportunity going unrealised”, it says, as the graph here shows.

“Two‐thirds of the economic potential to improve energy efficiency remains untapped in the period to 2035,” it says.

That needs to change and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. In industry, simply training staff properly to adopt energy efficiency measures can make a significant impact.

And with a new landmark accreditation programme now available in the UK, companies can easily achieve official Low Energy Company status at minimal cost and with virtually guaranteed returns on any investment in the training, just as ZSL London Zoo has done recently.

With notifications of energy price hikes now coming thick and fast through everyone’s doors, it makes more sense than ever.

My report, Mind the (UK’s) gap, appears on page 10-12 of the September/October 2013 issue of Renewable Energy Focus:

  • Meantime, are you looking for a sharp minded business journalist and editor or someone with extensive knowledge of the global renewables industry and markets? With a career spanning 20 years in the sector (across both print and online services), I am always happy to discuss new opportunities or ways I can help. Contact me via this site and find out more about me here or via LinkedIn.

About Gail Shameza Rajgor

Gail Rajgor is a business journalist and editor specialising in global energy and environment issues. Her current clients include Energy Demand (Editor) and Renewable Energy Focus (Editorial Consultant and Renewables Analyst). With a career spanning the last 20 years, previous positions include Managing Editor of Renewable Energy Focus and Senior Editor of Windpower Monthly, while her freelance clients have included Renews, PV Insider, Wind Energy Update, and Tidal Today alongside general business magazines including Risk Specialist and Director. She has also produced her own magazine, Sustainable Energy Developments, in the past. Today, in addition to her freelance editorial roles, Gail is also a professional photographer running her own company Rage With A Smile Photography.
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