The power sector will bear the brunt of meeting the target, with 30% of electricity to come from renewables compared with 9% today. Wind will do most of the work — unsurprising, given that the UK boasts the best wind resource in Europe. It will supply 21% of all electricity, 9% from onshore wind and 12% offshore. This will require some 28GW of total installed capacity, 15GW built on land and 13GW in the sea.
From the 5.2GW in place today, there is much to be done. Onshore wind must grow by more than 1GW per year, compared with an average annual growth of 544MW over the past five years. There is enough capacity in the works to achieve this rate. Beyond the 3.9GW already built, more than 5GW is in construction or consented, and 7GW is in planning awaiting a decision.
Offshore wind, which must grow by 1.2GW a year, has seen deployment ramp up dramatically, with 2010 the best year yet. With 650MW added, total capacity reached 1.34GW. Another 2.2GW is being built and 45GW is in development. Yet industry association RenewableUK accuses the government of lack of ambition on offshore wind, where it believes a 20GW target would be feasible.
Meanwhile, the government, the energy regulator and the industry have been successfully tackling some of the barriers in the way of meeting the targets, such as grid access and objections from aviation interests.
New rules to improve grid access have cut waiting times for connection, allowing some of the 19GW of renewables in the queue to hook up to the network in time to help the UK meet its 2020 target. The industry also expects the energy regulator to propose a new transmission charging regime that would bring down charges for use of the network for generation in more remote areas, improving the economics of wind projects offshore as well as onshore.
With around half of all wind projects in the UK facing aviation objections, work is still ongoing to resolve conflicts between wind turbines and radar and aviation. The industry is hoping to build on a successful outcome last year, which saw agreement reached on a regional solution to unblock 3GW of offshore projects.
The big unknown, however, is what effect the coalition government’s plans to change the renewables support mechanism will have. It proposes a system of long-term, fixed-price contracts in 2013 to replace the existing Renewables Obligation (RO) green certificates mechanism. RO rights would continue for projects that began operating before the change, with a transition window between 2013 and 2017, when RO ends, during which generators could choose which support to adopt.
The industry is concerned, however, that the change will deter investors. "The potential problem with any major policy change is that it creates uncertainty," says Peter Madigan, head of offshore renewables at RenewableUK. "Companies might decide to wait rather than investing sooner."