The rise of wind and solar power hints at a sustainable future, but is it enough to curb the effects of climate change?
Over half of the electricity generated in the UK is from low-carbon energy, resulting in a 29% cut to our carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade. In contrast, in 2011, 59% of electricity was provided by fossil fuels.
While renewable energies are growing in popularity, our progress is partially due to increased energy efficiency. Less wasted power means less is needed.
Wind power had a record-breaking year in 2021. During the first three months, 30% of electricity was from wind power alone, and renewable energy accounted for almost half of all electricity production. Over half of all electricity produced during the last week of December 2021 came from wind.
Considerable investment into wind power has allowed Britain to emerge as a world leader in offshore wind. At present, there are enough turbines to generate 10GW of energy, and the government plans to increase that to 40GW by 2030. If the plans follow through, they will provide enough electricity for every home in the UK.
Despite renewables successes, 2021 saw the slowest growth in the sector since 2010. Energy storage technology is still emerging, and significantly more investments in batteries are essential for periods where there is no wind.
The rise of low-carbon energies has resulted in the downfall of coal, and the last two remaining coal operated power plants will cease operation by 2024. Emissions from coal fell 80% in the past decade. In 2020, a two-month stretch during lockdown saw no coal-powered electricity produced – the longest the country has gone without it since the Industrial revolution.
Despite promising changes to Britains energy sector, the pace with which they occur is lacking. Current government plans will cut our emissions a further 10% – a figure far short of the 31% we must lose to meet our legally binding carbon targets.
Speaking at COP26 last year, Boris Johnson said: It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock, and we need to act now. If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow”.