Are renewables expensive and unreliable?

Posted in: Energy

Posted on: 05.01.2016

The public debate about the best sources of energy for the UK continues to rage.

Those who are sceptical about renewables portray them as costly, heavily dependent on subsidy and not reliable when it comes to keeping the lights on.

You might be surprised to hear that none of this is true.


How expensive are renewables? 

Today, onshore wind is cheaper than gas and coal – and far cheaper than nuclear.  As a result of the government’s energy auctions, we will pay £92.50 for each unit of electricity generated by the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, compared to £79.23 for onshore wind.

The price of solar panels also continues to fall, with solar generation now approaching the point of being competitive with coal and gas.


Are renewables heavily subsidized by the government? 

The truth is that all forms of electricity generation receive subsidy in some form or another, but the (incorrect) perception is that this applies to renewables alone.

Hinkley Point C is set to receive public support for 35 years, which means that in 2060 nuclear power will have existed for over a century in the UK, and will still be receiving subsidy.

By the same token, a recent report found that the UK is the only G20 country to have increased subsidies for fossil fuels in recent years, despite pledges to phase them out.

In contrast, government support for solar was stopped after barely five years.


Can we depend on renewables to keep the lights on? 

Those who advocate new nuclear and gas power stations sometimes talk about the ‘intermittency’ of renewables. They stick to the view that only large, centralised power stations can be relied on to meet the country’s power demands.

What if the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, they ask?

Countries such as Uruguay, which now sources 95% of its electricity from a broad range of renewables, show that with the right mix of technologies it’s perfectly possible to have reliable, clean power without nuclear or fossil fuels.

Industry is developing new techniques for storing electricity and managing demand at peak times, which combined with a diverse suite of renewable technologies, puts a 100% renewable UK within reach.


Sensible policies for a low carbon future

To ensure a sensible debate about the energy policies we need for a low carbon future, there must be greater transparency about the levels of subsidy, including through tax concessions, for different generation technologies.

This will help to dispel the myth that renewables are expensive and unreliable compared to older forms of electricity generation.


Ready to switch?