Renewable energy is defined as “natural flows” that occur continuously in the environment which can be harnessed to provide power for domestic and industrial uses. Renewable energy sources are becoming increasingly important for the UK’s energy market with emphasis on the need to supply increasing amounts of the UK’s energy requirement from non-fossil fuel derived sources. The interest in the renewable energy sector has been driven in recent years by growing concerns regarding climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions and as a result of UK legislation and European Directives laying down parameters for longer-term expansion of the sector.
Although the need to reduce carbon emissions and the issue of climate change have been key contributory factors in the growth of renewable energy sources over the last decade, a more recent impetus has been provided by the issue of the future security of the UK’s energy supply. The utilisation of renewable sources of heat and energy in the UK has been variable with hydro electric possibly having the longest history but with others such as solar photovoltaics and wave/tidal generation relatively less developed.
Overall output for electricity generated by renewable power sources in 2010 was 25,734GWh, an increase of 42% on the 18,106GWh produced in 2006. Although this 42% increase indicates the significant growth in renewables generation over the period, 2010 figures represent only 6.8% of total UK power generation.
In terms of sector mix, biomass continues to lead in 2010 with share of 46% up from 42% in 2008 and with output generation of 11,915GWh. Total wind energy accounted for 40% of renewables generation in 2010 up from 33% in 2008 and boosted by 75% increase in offshore generation 2009-10. In contrast, hydro electric generation has experience share decline to 14% in 2010 compared with 24% in 2008, reflecting the impact of drier weather and reduced rainfall on hydro generation capacities. Although solar photovoltaics experienced 65% increase in generation output 2009-10 this sector continues to account for only marginal share of renewable energy output.
Short-medium term prospects for the renewables sector remain positive underpinned by the Regulatory requirements of EU Directives and UK Energy Policy. In order to achieve UK Renewable Energy Strategy targets of 30% electricity generation and 12% heat generation from renewable sources by 2020, significant investment in and expansion of renewables generation will be needed.
A number of programmes and financial support packages have been established to encourage this expansion in renewable energy including the extension of the Renewables Obligation, Feed in Tariffs, Renewable Heat Incentive and Renewable Heat Premium Payment – all of which are designed to encourage the expansion of the renewables energy and heat generation sectors.