Energy industry leaders have suggested that decarbonising the grid by 2030 is possible but would require rapid reforms designed to encourage and rollout renewable energy projects, including energy efficiency improvements.

At present, the UK government has highlighted ambitions to deliver 50GW of power from offshore wind by 2030, and 70GW of solar power by 2035. The government has also made commitments to decarbonise the electricity system fully by 2035 as a key part of their net zero by 2050 plans.

According to a recent report, demand for electricity in the UK is expected to increase substantially over this period of decarbonisation, which could either inspire government action to implement succinct, effective renewable energy policy, or cause decarbonisation targets to pushed further back. Overall, Ofgem anticipates an increase of generation capacity from 120GW to 300GW by 2035, a rise in demand of 64 per cent, while the Climate Change Committee anticipate UK energy demand to be around 50 per cent higher than pre-Covid levels in 2035, and 100 per cent higher by 2050.

For context: 1GW of electricity is roughly equivalent to the electricity generated by 3 million solar panels, or the amount of electricity used by 500,000 homes.

UK energy demand and growth

Electricity generation in 2022 equalled 325TWh, with 38 per cent coming from gas, 29 per cent from wind and solar, 15 per cent from nuclear, and 11 per cent from other renewables.

To achieve the Government target of 70 GW of solar by 2035, the current deployment capacity of solar will need to increase by five times its present value. Domestic rooftop solar and making use of commercial property surfaces could ramp-up deployment and increase environmental benefits and credentials for businesses, while the Government continues to explore options across industrial brownfield sites and agricultural land for solar farms.

The Government’s offshore wind plan details up to 50GW by 2030, with 5GW coming from floating wind farms. If delivered, this would mean that by 2030 over half of all renewable energy generated in the UK will be from wind.

Onshore wind currently accounts for 24GW of the UK’s generated capacity and a quarter of renewable energy capacity. Planning rules for onshore wind farms, otherwise known as a moratorium, introduced in England in 2015 and modified in 2023 have slowed down progress in the onshore wind sector. Between 2022 and 2023, none of the onshore wind projects supported by the CfD auction were proposed for construction.

What does the renewable energy sector need?

One of the primary barriers for renewable energy projects is a lack of new infrastructure needed to support the sector’s growth. According to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Ministers estimate that “four times as much new electricity transmission network will be needed in the next six years than has been built since 1990.”

Identifying the key targets of UK electricity policy which will enable the delivery of net zero and decarbonisation of the grid, policy will need to focus on:

  • Quadrupling the rate of electricity infrastructure delivery, involving  more amicable planning laws for renewable energy projects.
  • Increasing clean energy capacity in the UK through government subsidies and planning policy.
  • Upskilling to ensure the necessary workforce is available across the clean energy supply chain.
  • Resolution of common planning issues and bottlenecks.
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