It’s become extremely apparent in the last ten years that handling the climate crisis effectively is the current generation’s biggest and most important challenge of its time. The UK government’s goal to be net zero and fully commit to clean power generation by 2050 relies on the continued growth of four key renewable energy sources: wind, bioenergy, solar and hydro.
The UK, along with the developed countries of West Europe like Germany, is a part of the “global haves” (developed nations). These nationals are members of the Paris climate agreement of 2015, and these countries have vowed to be the initiators in the battle against climate change. Apart from giving financial help and technical aid to the developing countries of the world, developed nations are making steady progress in adopting renewable sources of energy.
Progress towards net zero is being made. 2020 marked the first year that most of the UK’s energy came from renewable sources, with the four key players mentioned above accounting for 43% of energy production.
So, what does the future hold for our most important renewables, and how much of a role are they currently playing in making the UK one of the leading forces in green energy production?
Wind power is by far our most important renewable in terms of production, contributing to 26.1% of the UK’s total electricity production in the final quarter of 2024. Onshore and offshore wind power play a roughly equal role, accounting for 12% and 14% of production respectively.
The basic difference between onshore and offshore wind power is that in the former, the wind turbines are placed on the shore (land); in the latter case, they are placed on the surface of the sea. Offshore wind energy generation is more efficient simply because the wind speed is higher there.
However, the government is taking multiple steps to make sure that the wind generation from the onshore wind turbines also expands at a rapid pace. As of 2018, there were 700 functional offshore wind turbines in the UK. Some of them were single turbine units, but most of them were multi-turbine units, with many units generating more than 50 Megawatts of energy.
Nonetheless, expanding offshore wind power is easier said than done. For instance, in the UK, most of the offshore wind energy comes from Scotland. But almost one-sixth of the energy generated in Scotland is wasted because the transmission line for transporting the energy generated in Scotland to the mainland has not been laid down yet.
So the UK government is working at a steady pace to build the transmission lines as soon as possible so that the wastage of energy is reduced to a minimum. On the other hand, the government is also trying to sanction more onshore wind plants within the mainland.
The norms for setting up a wind farm have been relaxed considerably. Earlier pre-approved sites had to undergo another round of inspection by the local authorities to make sure that the scenic beauty of the place or the habitat of birds etc., would not be disrupted by the wind turbines.
Apart from this, the government has also offered a plethora of subsidies to people who want to start constructing a wind energy generation park.
Electricity generation from wind power has risen by 715% between 2009-2020 in the UK, with the industry now worth in excess of £6 billion. Come 2050, wind power, alongside solar, is expected to account for over 70% of energy production, making it arguably the most important renewable energy source in operation today.
Public opinion in the UK is largely in favor of adopting renewable sources of energy, so the demand for these sources is expected to remain high in the near future, and this will encourage more people to produce wind energy.
Next in line is bioenergy – the burning of renewable organic materials, which accounted for 12.7% of energy production in Q4 of 2024. Like wind power, bioenergy will play an integral role in achieving upcoming net zero goals, a key energy source for heating, electricity, and other fuels.
Energy from biomass can be generated from three kinds of sources, and they are known as the first, second, or third generation of biomass energy, depending upon the source of energy. First-generation biomass energy uses carbon-rich (high sugar-containing) food like sugar beet etc.
However, since these sources are also used as food, the second-generation resources include carbon-rich non-food items like wood. The third generation is more advanced than the second generation; it generates more energy and uses cultivated algae to generate energy.
The UK government is currently encouraging research in developing third-generation biomass energy to get a sustainable source of energy.
Apart from this, the government’s plans to increase feedstocks (the raw materials used) to the bioenergy sector are already afoot, with bioenergy seemingly the cure to many of our greenhouse gas woes.
The past decade has seen solar panels emerge as a viable domestic renewable energy solution in the fight against the climate crisis. More so now than ever are we seeing solar panels atop UK homes in all sorts of neighborhoods? Likewise, businesses are investing in them to help boost profits while they look to achieve their sustainability goals.
That’s in no small part due to the cost of solar panels reducing by over 80% in the last ten years. While solar only contributes 1.8% to the renewable mix right now, expect to see it blossom as we head toward 2050.
The origins of hydropower date back to the 1800s when the first water turbines were put into operation. Today, it produces 2.1% of the country’s energy but carries the massive potential for more.
Some of hydropower’s unique advantages include a low lifetime cost as well as being a local energy supply chain for the UK, while hydroelectric schemes are much longer lasting than similar ones for wind, solar and nuclear. The geography of the UK also means plenty of potential for tidal power, which harnesses the power of ocean water during the rise and fall of tides.
The growth of renewables means we’re due to see a paradigm shift in domestic and business behaviors in the near future, as organizations employ energy transition law firms to guide their sustainability and ESG initiatives. Expect to see the four energy sources mentioned above at the forefront of the UK’s push for net zero over the next 30 years.