Which political party is best for renewable energy in the May 2015 general election?

In the UK all the news at the moment is about the general election to decide the next government.  Understandably the mainstream media are concentrating on the "big" issues like the NHS and the economy, but what about renewable energy?  With seemingly more parties than ever before there is quite a diverse range of opinions towards renewable energy.  Furthermore, with a hung parliament extremely likely there has probably never been a better time to get opinions on "niche" subjects like renewable energy support onto the political agenda.

The main GB parties will be ranked in support of renewable energy, with 1 being most favourable and 5 being least favourable.

  1. Green party - Unsurprisingly the Greens come top of support for renewable energy.  They favour a very quick movement to a decarbonised energy supply, involving a vast increase in wind and solar capacity and a movement towards renewable electricity for heating and transport.  They 100% oppose new nuclear power stations.  
  2. Liberal Democrats - The Lib Dems come second in the ranking of political parties and their support for renewable energy.  Arguably without them being in the coalition government support for wind and solar would have been a lot less the last few years.  Traditionally they oppose nuclear power stations, however, they have been part of the coalition which has supported new nuclear at Hinkley Point C but that may have been a compromise to the Tories to allow more wind and solar.
  3. Labour Party - The Labour Party are traditionally supporters of a shift to renewable energy as evidenced by the large growth seen in the industry between 1997 and 2010 when they were last in government.  The labour party is traditionally strong in urban areas and so feels less political pressure to reject wind turbines and solar farms in the countryside.  The only possible downside to Labour is their promise to freeze electricity bills - this may result in less investment in new generating plant such as renewables and Labour may also decide to reduce government support for renewables to keep bills down.
  4. Conservatives - The Conservative Party have been the dominant party in the coaltion since 2010 and famously proclaimed they would lead the "greenest government ever".  However, since then their actions have shown otherwise.  Whilst support for renewable energy can be cut as prices come down, sometimes the Conservatives have cut support disproportionately to the cost decreases eg large scale solar which no longer qualify for ROCs but struggle to compete with onshore wind for Contracts for Difference (CFDs).  Further evidence of the Tories opposition to renewable energy is through Eric Pickles rejecting many onshore wind and solar farms over the last few years (often even when expert planning inspectors recommend approval) and the plans for a moratorium on onshore wind should they get back in power.
  5. UKIP - UKIP are probably the most anti renewables of all the main GB parties.  They intend on stopping all support for renewable energy and prevent any new projects getting planning permission.  
The Scottish National Party (SNP) have not been ranked above, since they are only fielding candidates in Scotland.  However, they are very strongly pro-renewables especially wind and they would probably slot in round the Liberal Democrats.    

With the above rankings, it is generally best to support the party higher up the rankings if renewable energy determines how you are going to vote.  However, in many seats it may be worth voting tactically as in these candidates from only 2 parties may have a realistic chance of winning.  In these cases, it is worth voting for the party that ranks the highest out of the 2 or 3 that are competing to win in the seat.

Ultimately, whilst it is likely there will be a hung parliament, Labour and the Conservatives will each have more MPs than all the minor parties put together and therefore the next government will primarily be made up of either Labour or the Tories with the prime minister either Ed Miliband or David Cameron.  In a choice between Labour and The Conservatives on support for renewable energy, Labour comes out on top.  This is something the industry recognises with Ecotricity even donating £250k to the Labour party to help them compete against the Conservatives.  

It's worth mentioning that in addition to the general election to elect MPs many areas also have local elections to elect councillors.  These make local level policy decisions and decide on whether to grant planning permission on all but the largest wind and solar schemes therefore the make-up of the local authorities will also impact on renewable energy in the UK.  As before, the local candidates tend to follow party line so it is worth using the ranking method above.  However, if intendeing to tactical vote, remember different parties may be competitive in the general and local elections.

Should any local candidates be in touch, it is worth mentioning support for renewable energy as even if the candidate is from a party that opposes renewable energy if they realise public opinion is against them the stance of the local candidate and the wider political party may move to one of supporting wind, solar and all other forms of renewable energy.

Note, this post was created before the publication of the various mainfestos, however, if anything massively changes when these are released an update will be posted.    

Large scale commecial photovoltaics farms and the feed in tariff scheme

There has been much discussion recently about the feed in tariff system of supporting renewable energy in the UK. For those who aren't aware, feed in tariffs are a way of supporting renewable energy in the UK. They are used to support a wide variety of technologies, but on a smaller scale than those projects which are supported by ROCs. When installing new renewable energy equipment which qualifies for feed in tariffs (FiTs) there is a guarantee of a fixed price per unit of electricity for 20 years, which is above the market price of electricity. One technology covered by FiTs is solar energy, and the FiTs for solar photovoltaics (PV) are massively above the market price of electricity. A limit was put on the size of such schemes which can qualify for this assistance at 5MW.

The level of the FiTs has proven to be a good investment. So much so that companies will pay to install solar panels on the roofs of householders and businesses. However, many companies have realised that the FiTs are set at a good level, and as a result hundreds, if not thousands, of PV plants are planned for the UK, in particular the south, most at or near 5MW. This has driven concerns that the pot of money will quickly be depleted, preventing home owners from benefiting. Furthermore, there are issues over tax payers supporting private companies from the UK and abroad to make profits in times of national belt tightening and so there are rumours that the government may change the FiT scheme to prevent such solar 'farms'.

The problem with preventing solar farms taking part in the FiT scheme is it will most likely vastly reduce the UK PV market. This has two main issues. Firstly there are issues surrounding less electricity coming from renewable energy which impacts on carbon emissions, energy security etc. Secondly, the PV industry is booming in the UK and employing many people, with prospects to employ many more in the future (just look at Germany where now hundreds of thousands work in the solar industry). For all the talk of attracting wind turbine manufacturing to the UK, the largest renewable energy factory in the UK is Sharp's solar PV plant in Wrexham, Wales which employs 900 and has announced plans to grow by a further 300 due to increased demand for solar PV. Of course, there are jobs in the manufacturing of the product, but there are also many jobs in the development, construction and operation phases of projects.

So what do I think should be done about this little issue the government has got itself in to. Well, you can probably tell I am a fan of renewable energy (hence this blog!), but I am also pragmatic enough to realise the country hasn't got unlimited supplies of money. As a result, I would recommend reducing the FiTs offered to large scale solar farms, whilst keeping them constant for other projects. If reduced to the correct level, it will not destroy the solar farm business, but will reduce it so that only the best possible sites are chosen. I have no figures, but my intuition would be that 100 50kW schemes probably result in more employment in the UK than a single 5MW scheme, and so from a purely economic point of view this is where I believe the money should be concentrated. Furthermore, by keeping FiTs constant for domestic properties, this will ensure the scheme continues to have the support of the voters (as well as possibly increasing support for wider renewable energy).

As always I hope you enjoy this article and feel free to comment!

Re: Electricty generating speed bumps

I read with interest in the Guardian that the UK supermarket chain Sainsburys is planning on installing the electricity generating speed bumps. I gave my view on this previously in my blog post titled Electricity generating speed bumps, but felt it was worth re-iterating my points made in the previous post. The most important of which that it is not possible to get electricity for nothing and so there must be an increase in energy used by the car, with associated carbon emission increases.

Floating wind turbines and the potential for a UK industry

At the present time wind turbines are either located onshore or offshore. However, those offshore are still fixed into the sea-bed, which results in a limit to the depth of water in which they can be located in. However, recently some companies have been looking at the option of developing wind turbines suited for deeper waters.

These would probably work on a similar principle to the floating rigs used in the oil and gas industry, and so it is no surprise that two of the largest companies developing offshore wind farms are based in the UK and Norway. The BBC are reporting that the Norwegian state oil firm Statoil have launched the world's first floating wind turbine, the Hywind. This has a conventional Siemens 2.3MW wind turbine located on top of a floating rig.

However I would counter that this isn't necessarily the world's first floating wind farm, since the joint British and Dutch company Blue H have installed a prototype tension leg platform with a wind turbine on top. I would also consider this to be more cutting edge than the Statoil proposal - whilst the Norwegian design relies on a conventional turbine, the Blue H design has a turbine designed specifically for off-shore use and so it is interesting to note that it has only two blades.

Whichever option is chosen there will be great potential for using such turbines in the UK. As they are able to be located in deeper waters there are a number of benefits. Firstly, there are far more suitable sites, as at present offshore wind farms are located in shallow waters around areas such as The Wash, Thames estuary and north Wales/north-west England. As they can be situated in deeper waters further offshore they are less likely to be a visual intrusion and so it may be easier to get planning permission. Such sites won't have as a great an effect on radar, which has been a major barrier to the use of offshore windfarms particularly in the UK. It is also likely that such deep water sites will have greater average windspeeds and higher capacity factors, resulting in more generation for the same installed capacity. However there are a number of major factors which will reduce the development of such projects, most majorly the cost.

As such it is important that such schemes are reduced to a price competitive with the alternatives. It is likely that at first this will need to be done through the use of subsidies or other assistance provided by governments. I personally feel that it will be very important for the UK government to support these schemes to improve the renewable energy industry in the UK. This is an area of great potential, and so there is the potential to have a major UK deep water wind energy industry in the UK, which could potentially result in an international industry being based in the UK. The UK already has a head-start on many other countries, as it has companies already involved such as Blue H and a well developed offshore oil and gas industry, not to mention the great number of potential sites. However, it is important that this initial benefit isn't lost, and so I would urge the UK government to assist this nascent industry in any way possible.

Wind turbines cause lifestock deaths?

Accoridng to a BBC news article, there is another problem with wind turbines. According to a Taiwanese farmer many of his goats have died due to lack of sleep because of excessive turbine noise.

My fear is that this will prove to be another issue which is used against UK wind farms in planning. At present wind farms in the UK have problems with planning due to noise and this may make thing worse, especially as the land around wind farms is often used for grazing. Whilst it is unlikely that the risk of livestock deaths will solely be used as grounds for rejecting a wind farm there is the chance that it will further encourage protestors. However, there are a few things which may mitigate this risk. As far as I am aware, this is not a recognised problem so far in the UK. In addition, many farmers earn quite handsomly from wind turbines on their land, and so this extra income will more than make up for the potential loss of grazing land. As such, I believe the majority of farmers will not bother too much about this latest 'problem', with the only farmers who vociferously object being those who don't get any financial incentive from having windfarms (for example tenant farmers and those who's land borders win farms).

Vestas Closing Isle of Wight Factory

You may have realised that the Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas have announced a raft of job losses worldwide, including the closure of the factory on the Isle of Wight which employs 450 people and more details on this can be found on the BBC.

Whilst I realise that this is a business decision, one has to ask why this has been done. Despite the credit crunch, there is still demand for wind turbines in the UK. At the same stage, recent currency fluctuations have made foreign manufactured turbines much more expensive. As such, it would be expected that the plant should be financially viable, and so it has been suggested that the only reason it is not is due to the UK having a regulatory environment which isn't as generous as that in other countries. This is a view I would also subscribe to, and this is why I have signed a petition addressed to the Prime Minister, asking that chnages be made, and I would urge you to do it as well.

World's first wave energy farm in uncharted waters

In today's Guardian there is an article on the Aguçadoura wave farm in Portugal. This has been billed as the world's first offshore wave farm, and consists of 3 Pelamis wave energy devices. However, the project has had a number of teething problems. At present all three devices have been towed ashore for repairs, although this would probably be expected with such a new and innovative scheme.

However, there has been another setback for the project in recent days. The parent company of the Portuguese utility which owns the wave farm has gone into administration due to lack of credit, linked directly to the credit crunch. Many of the assests of the company, including the Aguçadoura wave farm, are now up for sale. However, until the project has been sold, the repairs on the devices can not be carried out which leads to a Catch 22 as it is unlikely that there will be much interest in a new technology that currently needs repairs, especially in the current economic climate.

As such I feel that there should be some sort of intervention, possibly by the gorvernments of Portugal, UK or the EU to allow repairs to be carried out on the devices and get them back in the water as soon as possible to demonstrate the economics of such devices. This is especially important for the UK as Pelamis is a UK based company and if the device is proven to be successful then Pelamis could be a major international company providing loads of jobs within the UK. Whilst the lack of progress on the Aguçadoura wave farm will not be fatal for the Pelamis device as there are other wave farms planned using this device, it will prove to be a major setback. This is why I would urge the government to see if there are any simple measures which they can do (finanical or otherwise) which will prove to be a cost effective way of getting the Aguçadoura wave farm back into action, and once again demonstrating the Pelamis wave device.

Related posts: More on wave energy
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