Time for renewables

Dave Toke says renewable energy is likely to soar in 2020 as a proportion of UK electricity consumption

I must start by saying that I’d far, far prefer renewable energy increases not to occur if it magically prevented further deaths in this dreadful epidemic. However, simple analysis of trends does imply that renewable energy is likely, all else being equal, to increase as a proportion of UK electricity consumption – from around 37% in 2019 to around 43% – in 2020.

Why? Electricity consumption has plunged, so by early April it was around 15% less than the same period in 2019. Even if the lockdown ends within the next few weeks, an enormous recession may well mean that electricity consumption is cut for 2020 as a whole by well over 5%.

When you factor in the impact of recent additions to renewable energy generation capacity (which weren’t operating for the whole of 2019), and even if you assume that only half the planned additions actually take place this year, then as a proportion of total electricity generation renewable energy will increase quite substantially.

My assumptions are to a degree weather-dependent – for example, they will go awry if this year isn’t as windy as last year, and to a lesser extent if it isn’t very sunny.

Oil price collapse

The collapse of oil prices on the world market to its lowest point since before the 1973 oil crisis is a reflection of the deep economic crisis into which the world has plunged. Pollution in general, and carbon emissions in particular, have dropped heavily, but the collapse in oil prices will have mixed consequences for a transition to a green economy.

Certainly, poverty stricken populations are likely to embrace walking and cycling more, their attraction increased by being seen as both practical on economic grounds as well as culturally progressive. On the other hand, a prolonged spell of low oil prices will encourage people to run and buy gas-guzzling motor vehicles in a new age of cheaper fuel. That will be especially appealing in those places like the USA where fuel taxes are low and drops in oil prices feed into big drops in prices at the pump.

However, now that electric cars are increasingly competitive in terms of price and range, their rise in market share will continue. In addition, with low oil prices there is no point in investing in much new drilling, so oil companies may pay more attention to investments in renewable energy. 

There are already several large offshore windfarms with contracts issued by the UK Government with long term price guarantees, so they will go ahead, extending the supply of renewable energy as a portion of electricity towards 50%. The speed with which more will be issued will depend partly on how quickly the economy rebounds.

Ban wildlife markets

One lesson that emerges with crystal clarity from the coronavirus calamity is that efforts to persuade China to stop wildlife markets must be stepped up. These markets involve the butchering and selling of wild, often exotic, animals.

We already know that such markets are a threat to biodiversity and wildlife themselves, but we can now see they are a fundamental threat to human life as they encourage the emergence of new deadly diseases for humans. This should already have been apparent from the SARS and MERS outbreaks which many have associated with human pillaging of wildlife for sale in meat markets. To ignore this issue and to allow this trade to continue is incredible madness.

It is not to be anti-Chinese to demand a ban on wildlife markets, but to be in favour of both all humankind and conservation of biodiversity. The number of species is declining rapidly because of human assaults on the natural world. Now the coronavirus threatens the stability of human societies around the world through the economic carnage that follows the necessary efforts to curb the virus menace.

This issue really ought to put other international disputes about trade policy completely into the shade. Let’s abandon such nonsensical divisions and focus on the most important things – saving nature and humans themselves!

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