Working on renewables projects this year, with the likes of ASOS, Dentsu Aegis Network and South East London Community Energy, has revealed a number of interesting developments across the sector. Not just the headline-grabbing, international energy policies or political horse-trading, but also significant breakthroughs in key technologies and renewables being embedded at all levels of policy development, commercial operations and community life.
Here’s five trends that may have gone under the radar – but I think will be increasingly significant in 2017.
1) Renewables in the board room
In my work with businesses of all sizes this year, there’s been a growing interest in accounting for their commitment to renewables, and reporting back on the impact that self-generation and green tariffs have on the bottom line. We advised Dentsu Aegis Network on setting realisable targets for decarbonising their electricity supply, and are also quantifying the benefits of their existing self-generation for a national skin care manufacturer in their annual report. RE100 reached 83 members this year – the business case for renewables continues to strengthen.
2) Marine surfacing
Could 2016 be the year marine power starts to climb out of the valley of death?! I think so. Power first flowed from Nova Innovation’s tidal turbines on Shetland in August and more capacity was added at Inverness on the mainland weeks later. We are poised to start realising the potential of marine from Welsh and Cornish waters – and beyond as Canada seek to learn from British expertise. With EU backing to support commercial projects through the challenging demonstration phase, 2016 could be the tipping point for tidal.
3) Supplying heat without the carbon
There are many ways to cut carbon from our heat supply – and green gas has been a key development this year. Whether from cheese in Cumbria; food waste – both macro and micro; or a different type of waste altogether – this even lower carbon source of heat is gaining momentum.
Another option is to electrify heat; heat pumps are back in fashion. This is an established technology – being rolled out in wonderfully strategic local authority-led schemes in Manchester, and on a massive scale extracting, not gas, but renewable heat from the North Sea for homes in Glasgow. Expect to see yet wider roll out next year.
4) Communities holding their ground
While 2016 saw the last award from the Urban Community Energy Fund, its sister RCEF continues to thrive. This is a lifeline for communities engaging in energy projects – and is also catalysing others to consider energy as part of other local issues. The potent combination of devolution and community energy groups has seen ownership and investment in energy shifting from national policy to hyper-local – including being written into Neighbourhood Plans. Power to the people is decarbonising energy as well as democratising it.
5) Renewables out-performing conventional sources
All this has added up to some impressive outcomes this year – solar out-supplied coal for UK electricity this year; and renewables supplied the whole energy demand for cities like Burlington, Vermont, and even the whole of Portugal. Nuclear and gas are being pipped at the post on cost by large scale solar and onshore wind. And public perception of renewables remains consistently high – latest figures from DBEIS say that 79% of people support renewables, only 33% support nuclear, and 17% fracking.
Innovation, coupled with consistently strong support from the public, businesses and policy-makers, have made 2016 a good year for renewables. It’s not just about feel-good stories, but real change and momentum building towards the sustainable energy system we need. I’m pleased to see a range of technology solutions moving forward this year, as there is no single solution to the energy trilemma.
For 2017 expect to see ongoing improvements in established tech, as well as further disruptors entering the market – particularly around alternative procurement routes, peer-to-peer trading, and robust post-subsidy financial models. Business, communities, and individuals can all reap the diverse benefits of renewables – let’s make next year even better!