Britain's supply of green energy soars

Power from wind, waves and sun grew by a third last year. And 'Turquoise Tories' are urging the Government to get behind the industry

A A A

Britain is being powered by record levels of green energy, after a surprise increase in electricity generated from wind, sun and waves. Renewables accounted for 11 per cent of the UK's electricity in the first three months of 2012, compared with 7.7 per cent from January to March 2011.

There were big rises in power from onshore wind farms, while generation from hydroelectric and bioenergy plants also rose sharply, putting Britain much closer to meeting its legally binding commitment to get 15 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020. The increases could also go some way to solving the looming energy crisis, as decades-old nuclear, coal and gas power stations are taken out of service.

The latest figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that gas accounted for 27 per cent of electricity generated in the first quarter of 2012, its lowest level in the past 14 years. High gas prices were blamed. Coal accounted for 42 per cent, up by a fifth, while nuclear fell from 19 to 17 per cent.

Onshore and offshore wind generation was up by around 50 per cent year-on-year. Hydroelectricity output was 43 per cent higher between January and March 2012 than a year earlier, and thermal renewables rose by 20 per cent. Solar, wave and tidal grew by more than 800 per cent, but remain the smallest renewables sector with most technologies still in their infancy.

Gordon Edge, of the trade body RenewableUK, claimed the figures were proof that "green growth is beginning to take hold".

Joss Garman, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "Britain is now in prime position to become the Saudi Arabia of the global offshore wind industry. The cost of wind power is falling fast so if ministers don't make the wrong decision over the next few months – and if they avoid a risky bet on a new dash for more gas burning – then we could all reap the benefits of a strong home-grown clean energy boom with stabilised energy bills, new jobs and industries, and reduced carbon emissions."

Major progress in renewables risks being undermined by a cabinet row over imminent cuts to some subsidies between 2013 and 2017. Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is planning a 10 per cent reduction in subsidies for onshore wind, but George Osborne is reported to favour a cut of up to 25 per cent. With the Renewables Obligation Certificate regime due to expire in 2017, there are fears that uncertainty over its replacement could spook investors. Shaun Kingsbury, of the private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy, warned MPs that "if things continue to slow andmore detail comes out that makes it more complex, then you will see people stopping development spend". The Government claims its Energy Market Reform Bill will attract the £150bn-£200bn needed to overhaul the national grid and replace ageing nuclear and coal power stations. "Our ageing infrastructure has not been invested in for 30 years," said a government source. "If we don't fix it, the lights go out."

The surprise rise in green energy production at the start of this year builds on strong growth in 2011, when renewables generated 34,410 GWh, up a third on 2010. In 2009, just 3 per cent of energy consumption in the UK came from renewables. Capacity grew by 36 per cent last year.

Charles Hendry, the climate change minister, said: "This shows that the UK is powering forward on clean and secure energy and is a very attractive place to invest."

Britain's carbon emissions also fell, down 7 per cent, according to the Committee on Climate Change, but only 0.8 per cent of the drop is believed to be linked to climate change measures.

The figures would appear to bolster, at least in part, the coalition's stated ambition to be the "greenest government ever". However, there are continuing calls from some sections of the Tory party for an end to state subsidy for green technology, which, coupled with apparently anti-green rhetoric from the Chancellor, have fuelled doubts about the Government's commitment to the low-carbon agenda.

Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project who is developing plans for a £30m geothermal plant on the site in Cornwall, said there must be more focus on the economic benefits of low-carbon technology. "People like me have accidentally caused problems in the debate. It has been sold as a solution to climate change as opposed to it just being a bloody good industry to get in to,"he conceded.

A group of pro-green Conservative MPs – dubbed Turquoise Tories – are urging Downing Street to realise that support for the renewables sector is "not about tree-hugging but about jobs, growth and keeping the lights on". Last year, 101 Tory MPs urged David Cameron to slash the £400m-a-year subsidy for onshore wind farms. In response, the Prime Minister insisted they had to be part of a "balanced UK electricity mix". But, weeks later, Greg Barker, the energy minister, said there were sufficient turbines built or approved in the planning process to meet Britain's needs. Changes to subsidies for photovoltaic solar panels also sent shockwaves through the industry after strong take-up from the public.

Paul Barwell, of the Solar Trade Association, called for "steadier growth over the next three years – without any nasty surprises". More than 250,000 people have put solar panels on their roofs since the launch of the feed-in tariff scheme. The Renewable Energy Association estimates that the sector is already worth £12.5bn and employs 110,000 people, but this could rise to 400,000 by 2020. Gaynor Hartnell, head of the association, said: "The increasing use of our own renewables as opposed to increasing our energy imports will deliver a more energy-secure future, as well as keeping jobs and wealth here in the UK."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone