Beyond generating clean energy and meeting emissions targets

2019 has been a year of major shifts within the renewable energy sector. The UK government affirmed its commitment to becoming a zero-emission nation by 2050 passing this pledge into law. It has announced large investments in expanding the EV charging infrastructure and developing renewable energy generation projects such as wind and solar farms. For the first time ever, in the first 5 months of 2019, the UK reached a tipping point of generating more energy from renewable resources than from fossil fuels. If all of these facts are any indication of where the UK energy sector is headed, it’s certainly good news for the environment.

A broader picture

But, as we all know, making pledges and promises is no guarantee that emission targets will be met or that the reliance on fossil fuels will be reduced. Much of the UK’s energy generation plants are decades old and many are scheduled to be decommissioned soon. On one hand it’s cause for celebration that coal fired power plants are closing down. It means that there will be a clear reduction in carbon emissions which is what we’re aiming for. But it’s not that simple.

There are two concerns that have been voiced: Firstly, what will happen to the expertise and people who have created a career in the fossil fuel energy industry. Will they be able to transfer their skills, or will they be made redundant? And secondly, if these power stations are closing down, where will the additional energy generation come from? Will the renewables industry be able to bridge the gap? Especially as the demand for electricity may well increase will an expand EV infrastructure.  

Energy storage and distribution

One of the challenges of the renewables sector is that it relies on environmental conditions to generate electricity. This means additional resources are needed in order to be able to store and distribute the energy produced. It’s being questioned if the renewables sector will be able to meet the ever-increasing demand for electricity in a reliable way. Much of the current infrastructure is aging. Add to that the complexities of linking together an energy grid from multiple sources and being able to effectively distribute the electricity to where and when it is needed.  We’ve recently witnessed the chaos created when UK PLC loses power.

While some people see this as a major challenge for the industry, it could also be viewed as an opportunity. For a start, those who have been working is the fossil fuel energy sector have skills that could be very useful in the renewables sector, especially when it comes to distribution and maintenance of a reliable energy grid. Additionally, because of the predicted growth of the renewables industry, funding is being made available to support the development of clean energy generation, distribution and storage. This is supporting innovation.

As an example, one innovation makes use of compressed air to store and distribute electricity. In other sectors of the industry, people are developing more efficient batteries and energy storage solutions. Innovators, who are supporters of the circular economy, are looking at ways to use recycled materials and capture by-products of energy generation so that less waste is created in the process and what waste is generated is reused in some way.  So the renewables sector is not only growing, it’s a very exciting and innovative sector to be involved in.

What about nuclear?

Supporters of nuclear energy say that it’s a low carbon emission solution that can generate the capacity required at an affordable rate. However, that only tells half the story. Nuclear may be low carbon in terms of emissions, but, as we all know, it’s hardly environmentally friendly. For a start, it uses uranium which is a non-renewable resource. Then there is the matter of radioactive waste which is highly toxic to the environment. There is the possibility to generate hydrogen as a fuel, but that doesn’t solve the issue of radioactive waste that needs to be contained and dumped somewhere. Controversially, earlier this year, the UK government placed on hold new nuclear projects, except for Hinkley Point C, which is already under construction. Could this mean that funds are to be diverted to renewable resources? Let’s hope so, as I firmly believe nuclear is not the answer.

It will be interesting to see how things play out in the energy infrastructure sector in the coming decade, but one thing is for sure, there’s no shortage of opportunity or innovation in renewables right now. If you’d like to find out more, contact the WasteRecruit team. We currently have many opportunities available and several clients looking for specific expertise. Tel: 01252 353 080 Email: