BEIS and the Treasury are being urged to remove barriers to onshore renewable energy projects as part of their Covid-19 recovery planning, in a new report claiming that ‘shovel-ready’ renewables could provide a £28.9bn boost to the UK economy.
Published by renewable energy investment firm Thrive Renewables, the report outlines how the UK’s onshore renewable energy generation sector could attract up to £66.5bn of investment between 2020 and 2035 – £41.25bn for onshore wind and £25.25bn for solar power.
This investment would deliver a £28.9bn economic benefit and create up to 45,000 new jobs, Thrive Renewables concluded.
But, in order for the full extent of these benefits to be realised, 5.5GW of onshore renewable capacity must be installed annually between 2021 and 2035 – more than triple the amount approved in 2019.
Thrive Renewables notes that the onshore renewable energy pipeline is likely to expand in the UK as the result of BEIS’s recent move to alter participation rules for the Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions. Onshore wind was excluded from the CfD between the 2015 general election and March 2020 in an attempt to funnel exponential levels of investment into the offshore wind sector. In light of the UK legislating for net-zero by 2050, BEIS changed the rules for the 2021 CfD round and is currently consulting on additional changes.
Nonetheless, Thrive Renewables would like to see additional measures to support the expansion of the UK’s onshore renewables sector.
The report recommends that the National Planning Policy Framework is allowed to relax planning rules for new onshore wind applications, which, at present, are required to be situated within an area designated for wind development by the relevant local authority. It additionally calls on policymakers to stabilise the price of the CfD auctions and to bring forward central Government funding for ‘repowering’ existing sites – upgrading them with more advanced technology and extending their operational life.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel or – in this case – the wind turbine and solar panel,” Thrive Renewables’ managing director Matthew Clayton said.
“UK renewables have enormous potential that can be unlocked, fast. We already have what we need: abundant natural resources, proven technology, lowest ever costs and the right skills. We are calling on the UK Government to stimulate the green recovery and deliver real, immediate and measurable impact on our economy.”
Pre-pandemic, the growth in demand for renewables across the European market was outpacing the growth in supply, according to the Association of Issuing Bodies (AIB).
Then, when Covid-19-related lockdowns came into force, energy demand fell and many businesses reportedly moved to decrease investment in decarbonisation initiatives.
Policymakers across the world are facing calls to deliver a ‘green’ economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, prioritising investment in low-carbon sectors and ensuring that air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions do not rebound, as they did following the 2008-9 recession.
In the UK, the Treasury responded to these calls by allocating £3bn to initiatives designed to improve the energy efficiency of homes and public sector buildings. BEIS, meanwhile, has confirmed a £40m pot for next-gen nuclear energy technologies. It has also extended the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for 14 months to March 2022 and relaxed planning rules for large-scale energy storage projects.
Specific funding for wind or solar power, however, is yet to be announced. Chancellor Rishi Sunak was reportedly set to launch a dedicated fund for reskilling Brits to work in the renewable energy, cleantech and built environment sectors, coupled with additional investment in these sectors to assist with their expansion, at the Summer Economic Update. Such a scheme may now launch at the Autumn Statement or after the 2021 Budget.