Dame Priti Patel says that the public are “not ready” for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,
and that we don’t have the technology to meet our net zero targets. But the experience of our Operations
Director Paul Chandler tells a different story.
Today, the renewables sector accounts for 40% of electricity in the UK – twenty times the size it was when I started out as a graduate energy consultant in 2001. This growth shows just how much can be achieved with the right measures in place and that the technology already exists.
Back then, the Renewables Obligation – a scheme which obliged energy suppliers to get their energy from
renewable sources – was just being introduced into law. Renewable projects weren’t financially viable without government support. We were warned the grid would be unstable with any more than 20% renewables, and grid connection costs were prohibitive. It was very difficult to attract investment and build projects as they were perceived as high risk and unusual. Solar panels were expensive, gas and gas-powered electricity were cheap, and there were only two off-shore wind turbines installed in the UK. Many of the projects that had been built were small-scale and co-operatively owned such as Baywind in Cumbria.
Fast forward to 2010 and the introduction of the feed-in tariff, under which renewable energy generators were paid to supply energy to the grid, suddenly meant that domestic and commercial solar panels became financially viable. This led to over 800,000 installations across Britain, including Bristol Energy Coop’s early projects. This surge in installations led to a huge reduction in costs as panels got cheaper and installation costs reduced as installers got more work and experience. Renewable energy became mainstream and multinationals started installing lots of renewable systems. Large organisations such as pension funds started investing which has led to a total of around £110 billion being invested in solar and wind.
Today, renewable energy is fast becoming the dominant source of electricity in the UK with over 2,500 offshore wind turbines. This was unthinkable 20 years ago when the 20% target seemed impossible. We are now installing wind turbines four times bigger than people thought would be possible when I was at university. Renewable energy still has a long way to go (a further £130 billion to be invested to hit 2030 targets) and grid connection is still a huge barrier for projects. But the work of Bristol Energy Coop shows just how much we can do in a short space of time. Rather than blaming the public for not being “ready”, let’s focus instead on the political will that we need to make this change.