Why is the UK so far behind in renewables?

Most major countries in Europe have decided to focus on one or two technologies to reduce carbon emissions. By making concentrated investments in one or two promising areas these countries are likely to achieve substantial cost reductions and rapid increases in deployment. By contrast, the UK is dabbling ineffectually in several areas and achieving little. Despite having large resources of renewable energy sources, the UK’s effort is diffuse, trivial in scope and clearly insufficient. We have almost the lowest percentage of our energy coming from low-carbon sources in the EU.

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UK offshore wind farm development

The UK government has announced an intention to allow offshore wind farm development around most of the UK. John Hutton suggested that about 33 GW capacity could be added by 2020. This would provide about 25% of current UK electricity demand (which is itself rising by 1 to 2% per year).

Simple calculations suggest that this change may add about 15-25% to UK electricity bills. Offshore wind is more expensive to construct and operate than onshore wind farms. The announcement may suggest that the government believes that offshore wind can be pushed through but that onshore farms are likely to be successfully opposed. The big push for offshore wind seems to mean that the government is losing faith in nuclear.

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Community-owned wind farms

In Denmark and Germany, large numbers of individuals own shares in local wind farms. If the government encouraged this in the UK, a large part of the local opposition would disappear. Onshore wind farms in windy locations are good investments which could form an effective part of many people’s pension plans. One of the few co-operatively owned wind farms in the country has almost finished raising its funds. Investors have put up £3m to buy two existing turbines in the Fens. Locally owned wind farms should be encouraged as a cost effective means of cutting emissions.

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