Onshore wind and solar ‘could boost UK economy by £29bn’

Barriers to onshore ‘shovel-ready’ renewable energy projects should be lifted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Treasury to provide a £28.9 billion boost the struggling UK economy in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, according to a new report

Renewable energy investment firm Thrive Renewables have published a report indicating 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.

Such investment would deliver a £28.9bn economic benefit and create up to 45,000 new jobs, they concluded.

But, in order for the full extent of these benefits to be realised, 5.5GW of onshore renewable capacity needs to be installed every year for the next 15 years – more than triple the amount approved in 2019.

Thrive Renewables states 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 direct high levels of investment into the offshore wind sector.

As the UK is aiming for net-zero by 2050, BEIS changed the rules for the 2021 CfD round and is currently consulting on additional changes.

The report, ‘Delivering a green recovery with UK renewable energy’, recommends that the National Planning Policy Framework is allowed to relax planning rules for new onshore wind applications, which, currently, are required to be situated within an area designated for wind development by the relevant local authority.

It also calls for stabilisation of the price of the CfD auctions and policymakers to bring forward funding for ‘repowering’ existing sites – upgrading them with more advanced technology and extending their operational life. ‘UK policy is like crazy paving at the moment,’ said the report.

‘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.’

The growth in demand for renewables across the European market was outpacing the growth in supply, before the pandemic struck.

But when lockdowns were introduced, energy demand fell and many businesses sought to decrease investment in decarbonisation initiatives.

Policymakers across the world are being urged to implement a ‘green’ economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, prioritising investment in low-carbon sectors and ensuring that air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions do not soar back up.

In the UK, the Treasury has announced a £3billion fund for initiatives designed to improve the energy efficiency of homes and public sector buildings. BEIS has also unveiled £40million for new nuclear energy technologies, extended the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to March 2022 and relaxed planning rules for large-scale energy storage projects.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is believed to be considering a fund specifically geared to reskilling unemployed workers for roles in the renewable energy, cleantech and built environment sectors, together with extra money to help such sectors grow.