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United Kingdom

Leaders in a dream world of Kyoto targets

New statistics on electricity and pollution in Britain reveal a yawning gap between today's reality and the government's Kyoto goals. This analysis compares trends and reality of new renewables in both Europe and the UK, studying their share in the electricity supply mix and the installation targets set by year 2010.

Europe-with Britain heading the trend-is way off target on its renewable energy commitments, despite the attempts of politicians to convince the public otherwise. If the EU target of meeting 12% of primary energy need from renewables by 2010 is to be met, the rate of deployment must be increased by a factor of six, with around 24% of the EU's electricity needs coming from renewable sources (Fig 1). Wind's projected share of this is 11%, or about 80 TWh. That is nearly 16 times its contribution in 1996 and requires the annual installation of 2200 MW of new capacity. Current growth of wind capacity in Europe is running at about 1600 MW a year.

A reminder of just how far Europe is from meeting its Kyoto targets is contained in new renewables statistics from the British government. In a glowing interpretation of the statistics, former energy minister John Battle declared that Britain was on target to meet 5% of its electricity demand from renewables by 2003. But the facts do not match the rhetoric.

True, total output has risen from 6.5 TWh in 1992 to 9.3 TWh in 1998, an increase of 43% and corresponding to about 3% of electricity generation, with wind supplying 10% of this contribution. What the minister fails to point out, however, is that much of the apparent growth has more to do with a wet 1998 boosting production of hydro electricity after a decidedly dry 1996 than with any significant increase in renewables capacity. In Britain, 54% of the mere 3% of renewables generation comes from large hydro plants-all of them in existence before the government's Non Fossil Fuel Obligation.

Britain's upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, gently tried to point out the error of the minister's interpretation. "The House of Lords has got it wrong; we will reach five percent by 2003," was Battle's sharp retort. He is assuming that the sharp rise in the renewables growth curve induced by the hydro blip of the past three years is set to continue. Yes minister, but only if it rains a lot more than it has ever done before. The additional 11 TWh needed is, in fact, unlikely to fall out of the sky.

A comparison of the long term trends (Fig 2) since 1992 in the UK, and excluding hydro, reveals that progress must be accelerated greatly to reach both the 2003 and 2010 targets. It is the rate at which "new renewables" are installed which will determine whether or not the targets are met. No more large hydro plant are likely to be built. To reach 5% of electricity by 2003 will require an average 1.7 TWh from new renewables every year-over 50% higher than the best level yet achieved, and nearly four times the rate between 1992 and 1998. To reach the 2010 target, the best level of new output must be more than doubled and the rate achieved between 1992 and 1998 must be accelerated by a factor of five.

Back to Europe

The latest statistics for the EU only go as far as 1996, but renewables growth is revealed as sluggish-less than one-tenth of a per cent a year. The EU is a net importer of energy, and renewables accounted for just 5.3% of 1996 energy consumption, though they made up about 9.8% of indigenous energy production. The EU's future strategy, outlined in its White Paper on renewables, aims for them to meet 24% of electricity demand.

At present about 60% of the EU's renewable energy comes from biomass, 30% from hydro, while wind accounts for around 0.6%. The White Paper 2010 target calls for biomass to provide 34% of renewable electricity (230 TWh) and wind to provide 11%, whereas small hydro is only required to double its share of future renewables supply to 8%, or 55 TWh. Geothermal doubles to 7 TWh (1%) and PV increases one hundred-fold to 3 TWh, to provide 0.5% of renewables electricity.

The British government strategy is not as specific and only offers possible scenarios for the renewables mix. In a possible split between technologies under the government's "trends continued" scenario, wind accounts for 34% of the additional renewables electricity needed to the meet the 10% target, while other scenarios estimate the amount at between 21% and 44%. Offshore wind figures strongly in all scenarios, up to a maximum of 18%.

The aims are a long way from today's reality. The biggest increase in UK renewables output in 1998 came from municipal waste projects although the total output from all MSW plants is less than the yearly rate of increase needed to secure the target for 2003. Although energy crops are seen as providing a resource in the longer term, it would seem that only offshore wind energy has the potential to help the government reach its targets, if action is taken to remove the existing administrative barriers.

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