Back in 2008 the then French president Nicholas Sarkozy used his country’s presidency of the EU to secure agreement for 20% of Europe’s energy to come from renewables by 2020. It was a move that kickstarted the mass deployment of renewable technologies across our continent.
So what should we make of the European commission’s latest proposals for 2030? These proposals have a stated aim of increasing the share of renewables across the EU as a whole to 27%, but at the same time remove the central tenet and driving force of the current arrangements – specific legally-binding targets for each and every EU country.
Many commentators and industry groups are far from satisfied. “The commission’s proposal for 2030 is a lame-duck”, according to Frauke Thies of the European solar association. “The lack of ambition in not ensuring there are national binding targets is a disappointment”, said Maria McCaffery from the UK wind trade body. The fear is that governments may focus on traditional or as-yet-unproven technologies like nuclear or Carbon Capture and Storage to try to reduce carbon emissions, rather than drive forward our renewables transition.
But are such concerns justified, and is there really a risk that renewables could be sidelined in the UK after 2020?
Renewable energy up to 2020
Providing all goes to plan, the UK will see a massive increase in renewable energy in the next six years. In 2012 just over 4% of the energy we used came from renewable sources. By 2020 the government estimates this will reach 15%, meaning the UK meets its binding share of the EU’s overall 20% target.
If this doesn’t sound like much, remember that it is a percentage of all energy – not only electricity but heat and transport too. Looking at solely electricity, we currently get around 11% from renewables, and this is due to rise to 33% by 2020. According to National Grid, this is will mean more than a doubling of current levels of wind power and a four-fold increase in solar power in just six years.
The EU 2020 target is playing a critical role in this transformation. In a period where the UK is already close to near-term carbon reduction goals due to deindustrialisation and a long-term trend of reduced coal use, it is unlikely our government would have put in place the necessary measures to support emerging renewable technologies without a binding obligation to do so. The rapid cost reductions that we have witnessed over recent years may never have materalised.
Such measures include the feed-in-tariff which guarantees a fixed income for electricity from small-scale renewables, and the Levy Control Framework which provides £2.5 billion in support for renewables this year, rising to £7 billion in 2020. As long as these remain in place with investment continuing to flow, we should meet our 2020 target. This will be a genuine achievement if it comes to pass.
The ‘big hairy’ carbon target for 2030
Looking further ahead to 2030, whilst it looks unlikely we’ll have the same kind of binding renewable target, the European Commission is proposing a meaningful carbon reduction target of 40% below 1990 levels. Of all the top-down objectives the EU could set, the carbon target is considered the big one, or the “big hairy” one as it’s recently been called. It will be a driving force behind increasing amounts of renewables after 2020.
Enough to maintain the UK’s existing climate change goals
The way EU carbon reduction targets work is that each country contributes differently according to its circumstances. Under the new plans, some countries will reduce emissions by more than 40% by 2030, others by less. The UK will be in the first group – expected to continue the impressive reductions we’ve already made over the last two decades.
And critically, this should be sufficient for Britain’s pre-existing climate change targets to be maintained in the face of political pressure.
The UK’s fourth carbon budget – agreed by parliament under the Climate Change Act – requires our greenhouse gas emissions to be cut by 50% by 2025. According to the Committee on Climate Change, this cut was calculated on the assumption of EU-wide action at the level that is now being proposed, meaning there is “no legal or economic basis to change it”. This matters, because the coalition government has previously threatened to water down our domestic ambitions if European action failed to materialise.
The need to decarbonise our electricity grid
So what will a 50% cut in greenhouse gases require?
Every serious analysis which has looked at how the UK can achieve these kinds of cuts concludes that our electricity sector must come first and go furthest. It is the easiest part of our economy to decarbonise, and we already have the technologies we need.
In 2013 each unit of electricity from the National Grid (kilowatt hour, kWh) resulted in an average of445g of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. This figure irons out some big differences between coal power which emits a lot more, and wind power which emits no CO2, but it gives a sense of the overall picture.
By 2020, thanks to more renewables and less coal, this will be down to around 210g CO2 per kWh. By 2030, in order to meet our 50% economy-wide carbon target, it will need to be 100g according to the government, or 50g according Committee on Climate Change.
Renewable energy between 2020 and 2030
And what do we need to do to get our electricity emissions down to 100g CO2 per kWh by 2030? Recent detailed economic and power system analysis by the government (here and here) and National Grid (here) gives a one-word answer to this question – renewables.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what quantities of different types of generation will be in the mix in 16 years time but the government’s modelling shows that to meet our Climate Change Act targets, we’ll need the equivalent of at least 12 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind and 6GW of smaller renewables like solar to be built in the 2020s. This is on top of the doubling of wind and quadrupling of solar that we’ll already have seen by 2020.
To put this in context, just 1GW of offshore wind turbines produces enough power each year to meet the average electricity demand of over 700,000 homes.
But even these impressive figures are probably undercooked. 12GW of offshore wind between 2020 and 2030 represents the extra renewables we’ll need if we also stop using coal, build 7 new nuclear reactors (10GW) and put carbon capture and storage on five 1 megawatt (MW) coal plants. Yet you only have to consider the recently announced inquiry the government’s approach to supporting Hinkley C to see that the chances of seven new nuclear reactors being built anytime soon are diminishing by the day.
And if nuclear and CCS don’t get built by 2030 in the quantities the government hopes? Then renewables will be the only technologies that can fill the gap and be built in ever bigger amounts, at ever increasing costs, whilst ensuring we play our part in tackling climate change too.
The EU’s proposed 2030 targets may not be perfect, but they go just far enough.
Sam Friggens is a writer for renewable energy funding platform Abundance Generation. You can follow him on Twitter: @Sam_Friggens. This article originally appeared on Abundance’s blog, where you can also find details of the assumptions Sam used for this article.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.