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Renewable energy to overtake nuclear in 6 years

The exponential increase in the UK’s renewable energy capacity is set to continue claims Renewable UK

wind turbinesFigures published by Renewable UK show that, if current growth rates continue, more than one in ten homes in the UK will be powered by renewable energy.

The data was presented at the company’s annual conference and exhibition in Glasgow, where it revealed that wind energy capacity grew by 1,825MW between June last year and September 2012; an increase of 25%.

In the organisation’s State of the Industry report, Renewable UK revealed that 1,701MW of wind projects have been approved onshore so far in 2012 compared with 1,142MW last year, which is a rise of almost 50 per cent in the space of 12 months.

At current rates, the organisation expects the UK to have around 13.5GW of wind capacity in operation both onshore and offshore by the end of 2014, though this figure is a conservative estimate and could be even higher, depending on factors such as government investment and industry interest.

Overall, the report estimates that renewable energy capacity will overtake nuclear power in the UK by 2018.

‘Significant strides forward’

Commenting on the data, RenewableUK chief executive Maria McCaffery said the industry has taken “significant strides forward”, with decisions on wind projects at local level being made faster than ever.

This is a result of developers, communities and local government working in unison more effectively than ever before, she added.

“These strong figures underline the importance of a secure trading climate to attract investment, especially in difficult times,” she explained.

Ms McCaffery also noted that 2011-12 saw overall capital investment in the offshore wind industry rise by 60% to £1.5 billion, with Scotland leading the way as far as onshore wind capacity was concerned.

“That’s why it’s so important that the framework provided by the energy bill, currently under parliamentary scrutiny, must be right. Although we still have a long way to go to meet our challenging targets, we are firmly on track and gathering momentum,” she added.

Political promises or hot air?

Renewable UK hopes the figures will help to persuade the government that renewable energy is worth investing in, particularly as the Tories appear to be split as to the potential of wind power.

The chancellor George Osborne is behind calls to cut subsidies for renewable energies and abandon decarbonisation targets, as well as embarking on a major expansion of gas power plants and shale gas development in the coming years.

This is despite David Cameron remaining a major supporter of renewable energy and wind power, mentioning the issue three times in his conference speech.

The forthcoming energy bill has caused much debate among the coalition, with a special meeting of senior ministers taking place only last week to address the issue.

Energy minister John Hayes has been a major vocal opponent of wind in the past and has repeatedly pointed to fossil fuels as the single largest industrial UK investor, benefitting the trade balance to the tune of £40 billion and supporting 440,000 jobs.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change announced 167 new oil and gas licenses just last week, in what was termed “a licensing round bonanza”.

At the time, Mr Hayes said that “fortune has favoured the UK”, noting that oil and gas from the North Sea provides around half the energy people need to heat their homes, fuel their cars and power industry.

“Importantly, we are guaranteeing every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK,” he explained.

However, with the amount of oil and gas in the North Sea finite and new approaches essential, even major supporters of fossil fuels are aware of the need to turn to renewables – and Mr Hayes is no exception.

Following the publication of Renewable UK data, he told the Guardian: “Investing in cutting edge technology is very British.”

Very British, maybe, but also very economical – at least that’s what the figures suggest.