David Clubb and Emma Pinchbeck ask whether Wales’ renewable energy targets are deliverable, and what they mean for Wales
Ahead of an IWA roundtable later this week, this is the second in a series of click on wales articles exploring the implications of meeting Wales’ renewable energy targets. The first, by John Lloyd-Jones, is available to read here.
Wales is starting to reshape its energy generation and export profile. Historically a large per-capita exporter of electricity to England, with a changing planning and policy framework, Wales is seeking an increasingly low-carbon, and locally-owned, set of generation assets. This change is being driven both by Welsh Government ambition on climate change and sustainability, exemplified by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the new clean electricity targets, but also by an energy revolution, as the costs of renewables continue to plummet and householders and industry back flexible and modern forms of generation.
Firstly to the statistics. The total exported electricity in 2017 was the lowest since 2011, a consequence of a drop in gas and coal generation. Wales’ share of electricity generation coming from renewables climbed to 20%, an improvement, but less impressive when seen in the context of the other UK nations which range from 26% (England) to 52% (Scotland). However, it is important to note that this amount of renewable generation was enough to power over half of Wales’ total electricity consumption in 2017, and it is this figure which the Welsh Government is interested in building upon with their targets.
The Welsh Government’s target is for 70% of Wales’ needs to come from renewables by 2030. The most recent figures show that we are well on the way to hitting the target, with 48% of Wales’ total consumption coming from renewable generators. This is a good position to be in, but we will need to maintain significant effort to keep that progress, including continued imaginative and ambitious Government policy. As energy policy is not fully devolved the Welsh Government will need to focus on the issues it can tackle here in Wales – and continue, as they have been doing, to ask Westminster for the financial investment that will be needed for new onshore and marine energy projects at scale.
The industry can feel fairly confident that long-term planning and positive policy support will enable the more difficult sites to be accessed. The recently-updated Planning Policy Wales is an iterative improvement which links strongly to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the Environment (Wales) Act. The forthcoming National Development Framework should also see additional measures to facilitate the development of large projects.
But one element which has caused huge challenges in the past, and continues to top the list of barriers for developers in Wales, is the grid. The wind resource is strongest in the regions of Wales which have least access to grid connection. Unlocking this infrastructure will be key, not only for the development of more renewable energy, but also for allowing rural parts of Wales to decarbonise transport and heat through electric alternatives like electric vehicles and heat pumps. The newly-formed National Infrastructure Commission for Wales must identify grid as one of its top initial priorities if we want to take advantage of the energy revolution and the growth it can bring here in Wales.
One interesting Wales-only policy is the requirement of a component of ‘local ownership’ for all new energy projects. Developers will be keen to ensure that costs of this policy do not result in the cancellation of otherwise viable sites, but if communities start to become more engaged with local developments, smoothing the path for future low-carbon infrastructure, then industry recognises that this could be a valuable initiative.
Finally, the marine energy sector is on the cusp of great opportunity, with generous Welsh Government support having been instrumental in attracting investment within Wales and from overseas. We are the world-leaders in the development of technology in the sector. Other countries, especially those without the UK’s wind resource, view our marine opportunity enviously.
We are sitting on an industrial ‘golden egg’ with our wave and tidal industry but there is currently no funding accessible for these innovative technologies from Westminster, and without this there is little prospect of attracting private investors. Investment from Welsh Government and European institutions needs to be supported by the UK Government – or we will lose our industry to emerging markets in Canada, France, or South-East Asia.
With the development of the Wylfa nuclear power station currently under question, we need to be bold about the potential for renewable energy to underpin the industrial base of Wales, and to deliver on our national and global obligations. At all scales and in all geographies, renewable energy can deliver on our Well-being Goals, making Wales a beacon of sustainability.
All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.