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Have renewable energy technologies turned the corner?

[12/10/17] The rollout of renewable energy in the UK has been met with considerable criticism. Despite the legally mandated requirement to cut carbon emissions in the UK by 80% by 2050, efforts to decarbonise energy generation have often been met with resistance, in some instances with hostility. There are three common arguments against renewable energy systems;

  1. they are too expensive
  2. they are only feasible because of government subsidy
  3. they are too unreliable, since they only produce energy when the wind blows and when the sun shines

 

The critiques of renewable energy have, to some degree, been true. However, since 2010 there have been a raft of technological advances that have greatly improved the feasibility of renewable energy and have led to the current situation. A situation where it is possible to refute the three common critiques of renewable energy specified above.

First, renewable energy, and in particular off-shore wind, has reduced in cost considerably since 2010. For instance, according to government statistics, the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for wind is now cheaper than the LCOE of coal, once considered to be the cheapest means of electricity generation. Furthermore, the planned development of the 1.4 GW Hornsea off-shore wind-farm has achieved a record low energy price for wind. The project has been awarded a Contract for Difference (CfD) which stipulates that each MWh of energy produced will be purchased for £57.50. This is considerably less than expected. Initially, prices for the CfD were expected to be around the £100/MWh mark. Furthermore, the £57.50/MWh strike price is £35/MWh cheaper than the £92.50 strike price for energy produced at the new nuclear power station at Hinckley point.

Image result for offshore wind farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second, for the first time in the UK, a solar farm has been constructed without any government subsidy. The cost of installing solar power has decreased by two-thirds since 2010, to the point where it is now possible to operate farms without subsidy. The site is fitted with 6MW of battery storage capabilities, a key factor in enabling the site to be subsidy free. This project addresses the final two common critiques of renewable energy; the requirement for subsidy and the unreliable nature or power generation. The coupling of solar panels with battery storage technology enables the site to store energy during the middle of the day and to supply this energy to the grid at night, a feat traditional solar farms would be unable to accomplish. Significant advances in battery technology are making wind and solar power increasing viable, since energy can be more efficiently stored.

Exciting times

It is an exciting time for renewable energy technologies in the UK. Wind farms are being constructed with energy prices at an all-time low, solar farms are being installed without the need for government subsidy and breakthroughs in battery technology promise to make the supply of energy for wind and solar more certain. The crux of this is that three very common criticisms of renewable energy, the cost, the need for subsidy and the unreliability of the energy sources, are all being addressed and these criticisms are gradually becoming invalid. If the pace of progress in renewable technologies continues, and costs continue to fall, then the arguments against renewable energies will continue become invalid.

 

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