‘A stain on the nation’s green record’: UK renewables growth falls to lowest rate in a decade

Exclusive: Figures show government’s claims of global climate leadership are all bluster and no action, Liberal Democrat leader says

Daisy Dunne
Climate Correspondent
Saturday 02 October 2021 15:52 BST

Related video: What is Cop26?

The growth of renewable power in the UK has collapsed to its lowest rate in a decade, new analysis has found.

Analysis of official figures shared with The Independent shows that total renewable capacity grew by just 2.1 per cent in the year to December 2020.

This compares with an average annual rise of 18 per cent over the past decade – and an increase of 6.1 per cent in the year before.

The rate of growth of renewables, such as solar and wind power, has fallen every year since 2015, government figures show.

The findings come as the UK faces an energy crisis, with soaring gas prices threatening to plunge hundreds of thousands more households into fuel poverty and several energy companies going bust in the space of a few days.

Boris Johnson has previously promised to make Britain the “Saudi Arabia of wind power”, and boosting renewable power was a key part of his 10-point climate plan announced in 2020.

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Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the findings reveal “how much the growth in renewables has faltered over the last few years”.

He told The Independent: “Once again we see the signs and impact of the gap between this government’s rhetoric and reality. They are climate delayers.

“It is the government’s failure to plan ahead by scaling up our zero-carbon energy supply that has left our country so reliant on the international gas market and vulnerable to soaring gas prices.”

Ed Davey, former energy secretary and leader of the Liberal Democrats – who carried out the analysis – said the figures were “a stain on the nation’s green record”.

“These figures show that the government’s claims of global climate leadership are all bluster and no action,” he said.

“Under the Conservatives, the UK renewables industry has been neglected to the point where coal power stations are being fired up.”

Green Party politician Sian Berry said the figures “show a shocking lack of urgency from a government that still fails to grasp that we are living in a climate emergency”.

“If we are serious about tackling climate change and keeping the temperature rise to 1.5C, then we must increase renewable capacity as a matter of urgency,” she told The Independent.

“Instead, the Conservatives are failing us and future generations by going nowhere near fast enough to boost these industries, or to support people to generate energy on their own roofs and in their communities.”

As Britain’s energy crisis continues, analysts have said that a faster switch to renewable power in the UK could have reduced the country’s vulnerability to surges in gas prices.

“The country has been left overly reliant on gas, worsening the crisis we are now facing, which is hitting families in the pocket,” said Mr Davey.

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said the stalling of renewable power growth could be partially blamed on former prime minister David Cameron’s decision to block new onshore wind farms.

“With the planet on the brink of catastrophic climate change, the slowdown in the growth of UK renewables is alarming,” he told The Independent.

“Although the prime minister has rightly enthused about Britain’s offshore wind, England’s onshore wind industry has been badly hit by significant regulatory barriers, with other land-based renewables starved of funding. As a result, our electricity supply is too reliant on natural gas and the price fluctuations that brings.

“Ministers must do more to develop the UK’s huge green energy potential, to power our cars, heat our homes, and end our reliance on climate-wrecking fossil fuels.”

The government abandoned its opposition to onshore wind in 2020. But more action is needed to fill the gap in renewable power supplies, experts have said.

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to “drastically increase” renewable capacity to 80 per cent of all electricity by 2030.

“We’re calling on the government to invest in renewable energy,” Mr Davey said. “Instead they are committing a stain on our nation’s past green record.”

The analysis comes little more than a month before the start of Cop26, a major climate summit taking place in Glasgow.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said that faster action on developing renewables would be key to the UK’s hopes of being a climate leader.

“Renewable energy needs to be delivered at scale and speed if the UK is to be taken as a leader on climate at the upcoming climate talks in Glasgow – there is no zero-carbon future for us without it,” he said.

“The prime minister’s targets on offshore wind are all well and good, but not only must they be delivered, they must be exceeded given the climate crisis we face.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK is ramping up the use of renewables at great pace, quadrupling their use since 2010, ensuring low-carbon electricity overall now gives us around 50 per cent of our total generation.

“We will go even further, having set a world-leading offshore wind target of 40GW by 2030, as well as outlining plans in the energy white paper for a historic transformation of the UK’s energy system for a cleaner, green future – including fully decarbonising our electricity generation by 2050.”

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