Renewables will provide enough power for one in 10 British homes by 2015 if current growth rates continue
Renewable energy will overtake nuclear power in the UK by 2018, if current rates of growth continue, and will provide enough power for one in 10 British homes by 2015, according to new research.
The amount of electricity supplied by wind energy alone is up by a quarter since 2010, in a surprisingly good year for the renewables industry. While the government has notably cooled on wind power – more than 100 Tory MPs signed a statement this year opposing new windfarms, and the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, has queried the future of subsidies – the industry has continued to grow, with investment in offshore wind up by about 60% to £1.5bn in the past year. Planning approvals for onshore windfarms also rose, up by about half, to reach a record level, according to the trade association Renewable UK.
Despite the outspoken opposition from many Tory MPs against wind power, there was a rise in the amount of onshore wind capacity approved last year for the first time since 2008.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of Renewable UK, said: "These strong figures underline the importance of a secure trading climate to attract investment, especially in difficult times. That's why it's so important that the framework provided by the energy bill, currently under parliamentary scrutiny, must be right. Although we still have a long way to go to meet our challenging targets, we are firmly on track and gathering momentum."
John Hayes, the newly appointed Conservative energy minister who has been an outspoken critic of windfarms in the past, told the Guardian he was proud of the UK's wind energy industry. "Investing in cutting edge technology is very British," he said.
Despite his past opposition to windfarms, he said he would support new turbines if built in suitable areas. "It's about having the support of local people – that is the key thing," he said. Measures to make it easier for local communities to benefit from windfarms – for instance, by taking a financial stake in the revenues – are to be brought forward by the coalition government.
The energy bill, originally expected to be debated next week, is likely to be delayed until later in November as ministers wrangle over the implications. There is a sharp split within the Tory party over how to treat renewable energy, as more than 100 of the Conservatives' MPs earlier this year signed a letter opposing new windfarms. Peter Lilley, a vocal climate change sceptic, was appointed to the energy and climate change select committee last week in a move that some saw as an indication of a rightward shift in the government's climate policy. But David Cameron has in the past said renewable energy would be crucial to the UK's future prosperity.
Any last-minute changes to the energy bill risk alienating investors. Wind turbine makers are stalling decisions on whether to invest in new manufacturing plants in the UK, pending clarification from the government on its future energy policy. Several large companies, including Siemens, General Electric and Mitsubishi, are pondering building manufacturing plants in the UK, but will make no decision without firmer assurances from the government. The repeated insistence from Osborne that the UK's energy future lies with the gas industry – a new "dash for gas" is under way, with the government clearing the path for 20 new gas-fired power stations – has unsettled renewable energy investors. "The constant talk about gas is not reassuring for us," one wind investor, who could not be named, told the Guardian.
Renewable UK said that last year there were at least 137,000 people involved in the sector, with a further 654,500 jobs in ancillary industries.