The UK’s Renewable Energy Progress in 2021
Every year, the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) publishes a report on the UK’s renewable energy sector, which maps out the progress on the path to net zero.
Although the UK government has made historic climate promises over the last year, the REview 2021 report (pdf) suggests that delivery on those promises has been too slow. New climate strategies have been shrouded in uncertainty and the report warns that without additional investment and policy support, the UK will not meet its targets.
However, while some areas have underperformed, renewable heat generation, dominated by bioenergy sources, has grown steadily. The power sector is another area that has performed strongly, with 34.85% of its energy now coming from renewable sources.
Biomass is a vital renewable power-generating technology
The most recent figures available show that in 2019, 12.3% of all of the UK’s energy consumption came from renewable sources. While that represents continued growth, it falls short of the country’s 15% target by 2020 that was set out in the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive.
The power sector was the main driver of this transition to renewable sources, with more than one-third of all of its energy coming from renewables. Of that, wind was the largest contributor, accounting for 53% of all the renewable power generation in the UK.
Perhaps surprisingly, biomass was the next largest source of renewable power, growing by 8% over the year and producing more than 25,000GWh in total. That means biomass now produces more renewable energy than hydro, shoreline and tidal generation combined.
Bioenergy dominates renewable heat generation
The government unveiled its 10-point plan for the decarbonisation of heat in November 2020. It set out a goal of installing 600,000 heat pumps in homes across the UK. However, the Green Homes Grant that was launched in September 2020 to support that drive was shelved just six months later.
That goes a long way to explaining the diminishing growth rates in renewable heat generation and why the installation of heat pumps and solar thermal energy has been largely stagnant since 2015. Instead, the lion’s share of renewable heat generation has come from bioenergy sources, which accounted for 79.9% of total renewable heat generation in 2019.
Anaerobic digestion sees steady growth
Anaerobic digestion power generation is one example of where the growth of renewable power has continued steadily, rising by 4% between 2018 and 2019. That growth rate has remained relatively consistent for the last three years, with annual generation from AD expected to surpass 3,000 GWh by 2020.
As well as providing us with renewable gas and electricity, the AD process also generates a nutrient-rich digestate product, which can be applied to agricultural land as a valuable fertiliser. That provides an additional benefit to the UK environment. However, despite the continued growth, anaerobic digestion stands at 92% of the government’s target and is unlikely to meet the Updated Energy Projections (UEP) from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Progress is being made but just not quickly enough
If the government is serious about reaching its net zero ambitions, then it’s clear that more needs to be done. While progress is being made, the growth rate of renewable energy sources has stalled over the last few years, with many government initiatives being poorly delivered or withdrawn altogether.
According to Olly Neil, managing director of OJ Neil Contracting, “The time for talking is over. If we are to meet the ambitious targets the government has set, then now is the time for action. We want to see the government really back our sector, remove the barriers that are preventing growth and help us to deliver new jobs and investment.”
At OJ Neil Contracting, we supply power plants across the south east with quality biomass fuels and harvest energy crops for nine fully operational anaerobic digestion plants. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you meet your renewable energy goals.