Winds of change sweep through energy system

Written by Matthew Clayton on 7th Jul 2021

Following the recent G7 Leaders’ Summit, and with the UN Climate Conference (COP26) just around the corner, the clean energy transition is riding high on the global agenda.

2020 was the greenest year on record for the UK. Renewable generation surpassed fossil fuels for the very first time, meeting 42.9 per cent of electricity demand, and wind power supplied almost a quarter of UK electricity, an all-time high.

Thrive’s wind farms and hydro sites contributed directly to these record levels of clean electricity generation. Last year we generated enough renewable electricity to power 40 per cent of all UK EV journeys and avoided the emission of 66,689 tonnes of CO2.

Breaking records

But as always with the enormous challenge of climate change, there is so much more to do. We’re investing in the future of the UK’s energy system too, financing battery storage and the UK’s first geothermal electricity power plant in Cornwall recently, alongside commercial solar and hydro.

Records continue to fall in 2021. The UK hit peak wind power on May 21 st, supplying two thirds of the country with 17.7GW of electricity. On Easter Monday, the UK’s electricity grid recorded its lowest carbon intensity ever which is further progress, demonstrating what the current system can achieve.

Public support has never been stronger either. The most recent government Public Attitude Tracker found that 81 per cent of the British public were concerned about climate change. Renewable energy is the most popular way to address the climate crisis on Boris Johnson’s 10 Point Plan according to a recent poll, and support was even stronger among people who live within five miles of an onshore wind farm.

Committing to renewables

Backed by this evidence of public support, our industry body RenewableUK has called on the government to commit to developing 30GW of new onshore wind by 2030, a call we wholeheartedly support. It’s not just in the UK where we’re seeing opinions shift.

In May the International Energy Agency (IEA), an influential energy think tank widely used by governments and companies around the world to plan major investment decisions, released its landmark net zero global energy roadmap. The IEA, originally established by the fossil fuel industry in 1974, has called for a total transformation of the energy system. This includes an immediate end to investment in new fossil fuel extraction, and net zero electricity by 2040 dominated by wind and solar.

By 2050, wind and solar will be the world’s main sources of electricity, meeting 70 per cent of demand. To reach this goal, four times the record-setting capacity added in 2020 (250GW), will need to come on-stream each year by 2030. The IEA’s pathway will also bring a surge of new green jobs, forecasting 14 million directly in the clean energy sector, and an extra 16 million indirectly in sectors such as energy efficiency, electric vehicles, fuel cells and retrofitting houses.

Bright future

With signs of improvement in the policy environment for renewables, and record high public support, the future is looking bright for our sector. Whilst there are many, many challenges still to come on the journey to net zero, we continue to fan the winds of change and fund new renewable energy capacity for the UK.

For more news and opinions on the UK’s transition to a clean energy future, sign up to the Thrive newsletter.

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