The answer is blowing in the wind: are government wind farm targets ambitious?

On the 6th of October 2020, the government announced plans to make the UK a world leader in green energies, reaffirming its commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The Prime Minister’s Build Back Greener plans intend to build the UK into a world-leading provider of clean wind energy, bringing down carbon emissions, boosting exports and creating 60,000 jobs. But are the government’s targets too ambitious? We explore what the new initiative means and whether or not it seems reasonable.

Announcement: Build Back Greener

Boris Johnson had been criticised for his silence regarding plans for a green and eco-friendly recovery post-COVID, having launched no new initiatives bar a provision for £3billion to be spent on insulating homes – but this announcement foreshadows further initiatives expected from the Build Back Greener project.

Despite the Tories’ target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, there’s been a lack of movement toward the goal. Some campaigners have even argued that the target itself isn’t enough. As such, the commitment to boost offshore wind has been welcomed by green campaigners. However, it’s important to note there’s been no mention of onshore wind farming, a cheaper method which came under heavy regulation during the Cameron years.

Though a welcomed initiative, there’s been considerable contradiction over the past 20 years when it comes to government-backed Green initiatives. Take Electric Vehicles, for example. One Nation Tory ministers, in particular, supported the prospect of taking new fossil fuel-powered cars off the road by 2030. At the same time, the government scrapped the tax breaks that encouraged their purchase, scaling back the Plug-In grant scheme in March 2020.  

While the Conservative government have regularly contradicted their environmental commitments, the Build Back Greener initiative promises investment in wind as a viable economic alternative as a British export.

What does the science say?

The 2050 net-zero ambition will necessitate major lifestyle changes for our entire population. That includes eating less red meat and cutting back heavily on aviation but overall, would only cost 1-2% of GDP. Hitting the Paris Agreement target of 1.5C temperature is likely to necessitate more efficient work towards this goal and more. Accelerating this move, as some scientists and campaigners have called for, would involve more profound change to both our lifestyle and the way we do business. 

Significant changes to our energy system are an inherent part of this. It is possible to take emissions negative for the sector by 2030 using offshore capacity, bioenergy and non-traditional sources of flexibility (such as demand-side response and storage). However, immediate action across many technology and policy areas is a prerequisite, as is consumer engagement. 

In short, calls for net-zero emissions to be accelerated to 2025, 2030 or 2040 require more profound and immediate change.

Renewable versus fossil fuels

When it comes to a question of fossil versus renewable energies, the Build Back Greener wind proposals will ensure that wind provides ⅓ of the nation’s electricity by 2030. It will act to bolster the UK’s position as an attractive renewable energy market for investors, which maintained its top ten position this year. Fossil fuels seem likely to fall at the wayside as the transition to non-renewables takes place.

The future is renewable

More due to the impact of the COVID crisis than the Build Back Greener initiative, fossil fuel companies have been struggling with low oil and gas prices. Wind and solar meanwhile have been a stable sector throughout, that keeps growing. It looks like fossil fuels will continue to lose out to wind’s market share, prompting further investment in renewables.

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