Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Guest Post - Comparing the renewable energy markets in the UK and US

In the UK renewable energy appears to be progressing in leaps and bounds. In the beautiful countryside solar farms are popping up on an almost weekly basis. Companies are embracing the need for and cost efficiency of renewable technology. The European Union Renewable Energy Directive has pushed Europe to making 20% of all its energy consumption from renewables by 2020.

But how fair things across the pond? And are the renewable energy appetites being shared between the US and UK?

With these questions in mind I thought I’d delve a little into renewable energy progress in the UK and the US – to see what lessons can be learned.

The US Renewable Energy Program

US capacity for renewable energy generation currently sits at roughly 10GW – nearly 2 million homes worth of electricity.

At the end of 2013 the US government claimed it would outgrow Germany in terms of new solar project deployment. Sadly these targets were not met and in fact China was the only country to outpace Germany in terms of solar deployment.

One of the biggest hampering’s of US renewable energy development is undoubtedly the over-reliance of bio-mass. In the US The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set a target of 36 Billion Gallons annually of biofuel production by 2022.

However, in 2014 the UN released research that showed that biofuel production was harming the environment and driving up food prices. Clearly this situation isn’t a significant step towards sustainable and truly renewable energy systems.

Sadly the UK and Europe have also been pushing an overreliance on BioFuel. In 2013 nearly 50 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent was being created by biofuels. However, across Europe the push now is firmly towards solar and wind as the core mechanism for renewable energy. After a 2013 EU research program concluded that biofuel production often completely offsets any carbon saving gains and increases competition for food new legislation was brought in disfavouring biofuel research, development and tariffs.

Contrariwise, and despite the evidence, the US government has failed to reverse biofuel policies. Possibly this is due to their focus on post-petroleum fuels rather than any environmental concerns. The problem seems to have become that renewable energy isn’t just about the environment and climate change – it is about the future direction of the human race; consumerism or sustainability.

The UK Renewable Energy Program

Thanks to the Kyoto agreement and EU Energy Policies the renewable energy sector in the UK is booming. The government has introduced feed in tariffs that currently mean solar energy is one of the most lucrative investments available nationwide (with average return on investments of a staggering 6%). The feed in tariff has been coupled with thousands of grants and new regulations on building and installing solar energy and renewable energy systems.

One of the most interesting changes is the consumer market where customers are now expecting renewable energy. Companies like OvoEnergy are now offering 100% renewable energy schemes to their customers and people are more likely to choose a provider with green fingers.

The bad news is that the UK is still not on target to meet its EU directive targets. Currently we only have less than 5% of our energy coming from renewable energy sources. This is due to a mixture of issues -–most notably public opposition to solar farms and poor business incentives (the UK’s planning system makes progress painfully slow for many). That said the UK achieved a 20% growth rate in solar energy last year – not as impressive as the US’s 34% growth rate.

What does it all mean for Us?

There are clearly lessons to be learnt here. The US needs to ditch biofuels almost completely if it really wants to push renewable energy. It needs to implement stronger national and corporate standards of practice to drive renewable policy. The UK needs to make it easier for developers to create renewable projects and needs to push to meet EU objectives. We as advocates and supporters of more sustainable living need to raise public awareness and push governments, companies and the public towards truly renewable energy.