The UK needs to substantially increase the share of renewable energy by 2030 to achieve Target 7.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Poppy Maltby from Regen explores whether this is possible given today’s sloped playing field.

Target 7.2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires that by 2030, the UK substantially increases the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

The UK has reduced carbon emissions by 42% since 1990, half way to the 80% target by 2050. Renewables in 2017 provided 30% of UK’s electricity. Including nuclear, low-carbon sources provided over half of our electricity.

This sounds significant and positive – and it is – but the real figure we need to be looking at is that only 8.9% of total UK energy consumption, including heat and transport, came from renewable sources in 2016.

This makes the challenge look rather starker – so far, the UK has taken a nibble rather than a chunk out of the decarbonising energy challenge. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that a large proportion of nuclear stations will close during 2020s and replacing these is looking to be risky and expensive.

Despite the strong statements in the Clean Growth Strategy on low-carbon heat, and the 2040 ‘ban’ on fossil fuel vehicles, the carbon and pollution associated with heating and transport have remained largely un-tackled.

We need to act now or achieving Target 7.2 will get even more challenging

A level of electrification of heating and transport will be an important part of decarbonisation of these sectors and will also help lower air pollution and improve health. But to do that we need more low-carbon and renewable electricity. This is why target 7.2 is crucial, the UK need a substantial increase in renewable generation to support this transition.

So how is that going to be achieved? On the positive side we can expect up to  24 GW of offshore wind which should increase the proportion of renewable electricity to just over 50% by 2030. This would increase total renewable energy by only 5%, not a figure that can claim to be ‘substantial’.

Unfortunately, deployment of all other renewables in the UK has largely ceased in the last two years. This is because, despite the lower technology costs, the playing field is now sloping against renewable technologies.

Currently onshore wind, solar and other less developed sectors such as marine are either ineligible or unable to access the government price support that is available to help the construction of other new generators such as nuclear and gas, frustrating the renewable energy aspirations of the Scottish and Welsh governments.

New network connections in the areas most favourable to renewables are often prohibitively expensive  as new and future generators on our low voltage networks are required to pick up the cost of upgrading our antiquated electricity system.

And in England, in direct opposition to what the Government’s own survey on public attitudes suggest, it favours further easing the progress of fracking through the planning system, while onshore wind – a popular and the lowest-cost renewable energy – is effectively banned.

Since 2015 this position has led to the loss of many jobs, investment, skills and economic development in some regions.

Though there are opportunities to flatten the field in the future, such as the review of network charging, it is important this bias is removed soon if we are to have any hope of achieving a substantial increase in renewable capacity in the next decade.

With opportunities such as the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon also being missed, Regen’s Measuring up assessment is that the UK leadership in renewables is under significant threat along with the SDG target 7.2.

Poppy Maltby is Senior Project Manager at Regen and led the Goal 7 chapter of Measuring up.

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