The renewable energy industry is not only critical to the future of the UK energy market, but also the global carbon footprint and the deceleration of climate change. As such, the industry is a vital component to the progression of organisations across the UK as they encounter the inevitable energy transition.
SPOTLIGHT ON REA: ASSOCIATION FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY AND CLEAN TECHNOLOGY
In the last 25 years, the realm of renewable energy has grown from a hobby in people’s back gardens, equating to just 2.8 percent of all electricity generated in the UK, to a serious and vital element of national and international energy security, resulting in a record 40 percent of electricity coming from renewables in 2022.
In accordance with the growth of UK renewable energies, the government has committed to keeping the industry stable and catering to fluctuations in fossil fuels through various legislature.
This has materialised in the recently implemented Energy Act 2023, which supports energy production and security, as well as the regulation of the energy market. The legislation also sets out the carbon capture and storage of fossil fuels, as well as developing the production and transportation of hydrogen.
However, despite recent commitments from the UK government and a noticeable increase in green power, renewable energy resources are still in pressing need of support.
The next phase of the renewable energy industry is to rapidly grow efficient energy storage and implement the full utilisation of renewables, allowing variations in supply and demand to be balanced out. Therefore, more work needs to be done to deploy storage and all renewable technologies at scale in society through clean energy production, use, and storage.
Ultimately, by progressing to the next stage of the energy transition, both the UK government and public can truly harness the achievable goal of net zero.
Q&A WITH DR NINA SKORUPSKA CBE FEI, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, REA
As the largest renewable energy trade association in the UK, REA: The Association for Renewable Energy & Clean Technology (REA) works across 14 renewable energy and clean technologies and comprises over 500 member organisations, ranging from major multinationals, small to medium-enterprises (SMEs), and sole traders.
The REA aims to champion the voices of its members, communicate the industry’s needs to the UK government, and secure the best legislative and regulatory framework for expanding renewable energy deployment and production to meet the country’s electricity, heat, recycling, energy storage, and transport needs. Dr Nina Skorupska CBE FEI, Chief Executive, tells us more.
Firstly, could you talk us through the origins of the REA and what its founding mission was?
Dr Nina Skorupska CBE FEI, Chief Executive (NS): The REA was established 21 years ago as the Renewable Power Association to advocate for the recognition that there were other forms of renewable power in addition to wind. Therefore, the association originally had members from the solar, biogas, and bioenergy sectors.
Nowadays, we represent the views of over 500 member organisations comprising generators, project developers, fuel producers, distributors, equipment manufacturers, and installers.
Our main aim is to develop how we deliver renewable energy and clean technology, but also to increase the availability of green jobs and grow the economy as a result.
Our members are interested in not only producing power, but delivering renewable heat and transport, as well as looking at how the entire renewable power infrastructure works.
This includes bioenergy from biogas, biomass power, energy from waste, and all the other forms of renewable power, such as energy from the marine industry and even space!
Since inception, how has REA developed and progressed in terms of its key objectives and the messages it tries to get across?
NS: A key part of the energy transition over the last 20 years has been the strong push towards advocating for a transition from a fossil fuel driven society to a renewable one.
This transition initially needed to be subsidised to give it the kickstart that it required. Thus, for the first eight to nine years, it was about arguing the need for a subsidy system that would enable necessary sustainable practices to be affordable for businesses.
As government subsidies increased, we strived to grow the volume of renewable energy due to a heightened capability to produce and deploy resources at a decreased cost.
The UK went one step further by bringing in the Climate Change Act 2008, which pledged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, reducing it to levels seen in 1990.
Therefore, as energy efficiency became a greater part of the public conversation, it meant there was a better understanding of what renewable resources were and the technology involved, resulting in the sector becoming much less risk averse.
What do you find most exciting about the renewable energy sector in the UK currently?
NS: The UK has been extraordinarily successful in the adaption of offshore wind and solar power, so it’s important that we continue on this trajectory.
We know we have the capability from a technology standpoint to deliver 100 percent renewable power, heat, and transport by 2050. Therefore, there must be a consensus to work hard to deliver it and positively deter the impacts of climate change.
At COP26, held in Glasgow, we stated that the UK would be the first nation to reach net zero. It is therefore key that we take action and identify what the main levers are to reach this goal and accelerate the UK’s leadership in reaching carbon neutrality.
On the other hand, what are the sector’s biggest challenges?
NS: There are definitely some organisations who have historically benefitted from fossil fuels, so it’s not in their vested interest to encourage an energy transition. They might look like they are adopting energy efficiency, but that may not realistically be the case.
If we are to carry on using fossil fuels, this can only be by using clean technology in the form of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to capture and store or use the emissions.
This lets us reach net zero by capturing GHGs emitted by fossil fuels to help speed up the transition to renewable energy, and also means we have less reliance on fossil gas. But really, the only long-term future we see is one completely powered by renewables and clean technologies.
What trends are currently transforming the renewable energy sector and how is the REA responding to them?
NS: The industry is focusing on the barriers hindering the energy transition and the necessary infrastructure not just in the UK, but worldwide. For example, if you want to build a renewable project such as an offshore wind or solar farm, how can you connect this to the grid and ensure the power flows where it’s needed?
The problem lies in the fact that our members who have solar projects in the pipeline approach the grid company for a connection but are told that they can’t connect until close to 2037. Therefore, a lot of our work is about shortening the time frame in planning and constructing a physical asset that can be used for renewable energy use.
Have you got any strategies or objectives in the pipeline that you wish to highlight?
NS: In the future, we will continue to specifically identify green jobs available and the steps people can take to harness the advantages of these opportunities.
Therefore, job security will provide proof of the positive impacts found in the energy transition and is key to winning the hearts and minds of the people who feel scared or threatened by renewable energy.
In the shorter term, I love meeting with organisations that are not a part of the renewable technology sector and encouraging them to build solar panels on their roof or think of alternative ways of heating their facilities. It’s great for businesses to see the positive impacts they are having and connect the dots around the overall vital effects of renewable energy, which will hopefully encourage a more natural transition.
How do you see the REA and the renewable energy sector developing over the next five years?
NS: With the general election happening next year, we know that the entire energy transition still faces significant challenges, which are currently delaying the roll-out of low carbon technologies across all sectors.
However, the recently implemented Energy Act 2023 will be a catalyst for much needed action and is a very significant step towards our goals. We look forward to working alongside the government in the coming months to help ensure energy is affordable for households and businesses and to make the UK more energy independent in the long-term.
Subsequently, we need to create a system that addresses the different issues associated with the likes of offshore wind and solar power in homes.
For example, if people are generating renewable power themselves, how do we ensure that that this happens in a way that builds the grid network whilst rewarding people for their sustainable practices?
This can be achieved by running your washing machine overnight when there’s more available power, which makes it more cost-effective as power, price, and demand go hand-in-hand.
As such, we need a simple market to persuade people to charge their car or put their washing machine on overnight.
Of course, not everybody can, so we need to ensure that renewables are an accessible option for all.
Are you optimistic about the future of renewable energy and clean technology in the UK?
NS: I would describe myself as an optimistic realist. I would like us to go faster in the deployment of renewable energy and clean technology, and for the government to do an awful lot more in accelerating this future.
Despite the UK’s undoubted success to date on cutting emissions, Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak recently announced measures that will undoubtedly slow down the UK’s progression to net zero. This will continue to impact the UK and also send mixed signals internationally.
The PM could be stimulating the economy – one of his major priorities – by accelerating the energy transition through green supply chain support, finding new routes to market to decarbonise heat, implementing zero-rated VAT for new small-scale energy storage installations, and announcing ambitious transport decarbonisation measures and new funding for local authorities to deliver the new Simpler Recycling measures. Yet, addressing these barriers remains unmentioned.
Moving forward, the REA continues to urge all political parties to focus on delivering the investment we need to grow the renewable energy industry, to unlock the abundant potential of our clean technologies. The UK’s energy security and net zero targets depend on it.
When we gather in Dubai next month for COP28, there will be 197 countries coming together to act more decisively to tackle climate change. Thus, within the context of the PM’s words, it makes me more determined to advocate for what must be done.