The government faces some tough decisions to tackle climate change and reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, but last week it made a huge step towards its renewables targets by backing offshore wind energy.
The Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth Claire Perry announced that from 2019, offshore wind and remote island wind energy providers will be able to bid for substantial government contracts. This decision follows immediately on from the recommendations set out by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) in its first ever National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA), which outlined a strategic vision for how the UK’s infrastructure needs should be met over the next 30 years.
The NIA’s message was clear. Immediate action is required by government to invest in low-cost renewable energy technologies and plan now so the UK has a sustainable future. The response by government to harness the reins and drive forward the world-leading offshore wind industry is a big step towards a greener future.
It will provide welcome encouragement to developers at a critical time where there has been a substantial downward trend in new investment for renewables. This reduction is in part due to the cost of developing renewable technologies becoming increasingly cheaper, but it can also be pinpointed to a short-term cycle of policy change in the energy sector, which has resulted in fewer projects being brought forward. A significant milestone was, of course, the decision to scrap onshore wind subsidies in 2015.
However, the wind might be changing. The NIC has been quick to commend government for committing to long-term support to offshore wind, but has added the pressure and urged the contracts to be extended to onshore wind and solar technologies.
Onshore wind is now the UKs cheapest electricity source and according to government’s tracker poll, is only strongly opposed by 2% of the population. This is a stark contrast to a YouGov poll which found over half of MPs thought there was over 20% strong opposition, highlighting the alarming misconception of renewables between politicians and reality.
The price of solar power has also drastically fallen in recent years and sits comfortably at the top as the most nationally supported source of renewable energy, with 87% total support and just 3% total opposition.
As low-cost and publically accepted renewables, onshore wind and solar power have a part to play in a diverse energy mix to help the UK meet its legally binding energy targets. With the NIC’s stand being echoed by other industry leaders, and even some Conservative politicians, the pressure could tell and we could yet be faced with another change in energy policy.