China leads on renewables as UK emits hot air



China is now the world’s leading producer of energy from renewable sources. Meanwhile the UK continues to talk and talk about renewables with yet another consultation released recently by government.

The Climate Group says that, despite its coal-dependent economy, China has become a world leader in the manufacture of solar photovoltaic technology – its six biggest solar companies have a combined value of over $15bn (£7.57bn).

The group’s report, China’s Clean Revolution, shows that supportive government policies investing billions of dollars in energy efficiency and renewables are driving huge levels of innovation in China.

The country already leads the world in terms of installed renewable capacity at 152 gigawatts. In the next year, China will also become the world’s leading exporter of wind turbines and it is also highly competitive in solar water heaters, energy efficient home appliances, and rechargeable batteries.

“For too long, many governments, businesses and individuals have been wary of committing to action on climate change because they perceive that China is doing little to address the issue,” said Steve Howard, chief executive of the Climate Group.

“However, the reality is that China’s government is beginning to unleash a low-carbon dragon which will power its future growth, development and energy security objectives.”

Meanwhile, back in talk, talk UK we find ourselves at the bottom of the European renewables league table. A useful summary of the dire situation the UK finds itself in can be found at the Practical Law Company;

At present, only around 1.5-2% of the UK’s overall energy (not just electricity) comes from renewable energy resources. Under existing policies and incentives, the government expects this to rise to 5% by 2020. How then is the UK is going to bridge the 10% gap by 2020?

The story so far. The consultation document starts off with the government patting itself on the back about everything it has done so far to promote renewables, primarily:

  • The Renewables Obligation, and the changes it is proposing to make to this through the Energy Bill to increase incentives for less well-developed renewable technologies.
  • The changes it is proposing to make through the Planning Bill to simplify and speed up the way in which consent is obtained for large-scale energy infrastructure projects (such as large wind farms and upgrades to the national grid transmission network).
  • Round three of the UK’s offshore wind farm leasing programme, which is being carried out by the Crown Estate and is expected to result in a significant increase in the amount of electricity generated using wind power.

What else can the UK do? The principal proposals include:

  • Making additional changes to the Renewables Obligation to improve the way in which operators can benefit from supplying renewable energy through the centralised national grid.
  • Improving the national grid to make it easier for renewable energy operators to connect to it.
  • Introducing new incentives to encourage heat to be produced using renewable energy sources.
  • Considering (but not necessarily endorsing) the introduction of a feed-in tariff for microgeneration (that is, electricity produced by households and businesses onsite using small-scale renewable energy technologies).

The biofuels wildcard. The government estimates that to meet the 15% target by 2020:

  • 32% of the UK’s electricity would have to come from renewable sources (compared to 5% at present).
  • 14% of the UK’s heat would have to come from renewable sources (compared to 1% at present).

However, these calculations are based on the assumption that 10% of the UK’s road transport fuels will come from biofuels.

The government has a very short time in which to persuade the private sector to make considerable investment.


  • The government wants to convince the EU that there should be some sort of renewable target trading scheme, whereby member states that have exceeded their EU target can transfer their surplus to member states that are lagging behind.
  • Plans to build a new fleet of nuclear power plants, which at present do not count towards the 15% target but might provide a back-up plan if the UK is unable to deploy enough renewable energy in time.

Personally? I think it’s time for a change of government. Too much hot air and not enough action. Oh, and too many vested interests in the nuclear industry.

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5 Responses to China leads on renewables as UK emits hot air

  1. Stephan Smith says:

    Hi Matt,

    Whilst I agree that we need to implement a low carbon energy economy as soon as we are ready, when we do we commit ourselves to 30 years worth of infrastructure at the current state of technology. I didn’t think we wanted even 1% of our transport to be run on the current generation of bio fuels due to the ecological and food price issues that have been highlighted in the media recently – something that many of us predicted prior to the current ill-conceived European drive in this direction. I for one would like the government to make a considered decision on how to send our money securing our energy future in a long term sustainable way. The installation of large amounts of PV at current prices, levels of efficiency and un-sustainability in manufacture could also be considered an expensive folly that we would have to live with from some time to come as would be substantial amounts of wind power with the significant levels of overcapacity and backup facilities required to ensure uninterrupted supply. Let’s hope we get a policy together within a year, as the data I have seen recently indicates that delaying beyond that time would be almost criminal with respect to the negative impacts that would result.


  2. matt says:

    Well, while the UK dithers on the whys & wherefores the rest of the industrialised world marches on with building a more sustainable mix. Brown’s real agenda is trying to sell off the nuclear mess that is British Energy.

  3. microchap says:

    Stephan’s note is a refreshing change from the ramblings of ill-informed, pseudo-greens who hail PV as the salvation of the world’s energy needs and who seem to believe that Germany is a shining exemplar of how to implement “zero carbon” generation regardless of cost (or environmental realities) through their absurd and utterly perverse Feed In Tariffs. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to resist calls from those who would squander our very finite resources on such eco-fashionista solutions and instead focus on relevant technologies we know can make a real impact on our insatiable demands for energy and whose “solutions” end up having undesirable indirect impacts elsewhere.
    However, I would take issue over comments on wind (at least with what I think S is saying). Wind is a well proven if slightly expensive technology; we do know however, how much it costs to build, how much it costs to run and it is all bog standard engineeering. Nothing clever or unknown (unlike nuclear) and despite issues with intermittency, not such a great challenge to integrate into our electricity system; after all Denmark gets something like 40% of their power from wind so we have a long way to go before we worry about those issues anyway. So why not build what we know is a good idea now as a priority and leave the fanciful PV for Dubai.
    If you want to invest your own money in saving our future then microgeneration, whilst less cost-effective than large scale renewables, is one way to go, but then we need to understand that not all technologies are equal and you will do a lot more for the planet (and your wallet) if you invest in biomass boilers, heat pumps and micro CHP than if you squander vast amounts on PV; this is England chaps! Rain, wind and clouds. Even in sunnier climes the current PV technologies are pretty questionable on both environmental and economic grounds.
    Sadly I suspect the chances of getting our UK act together given the pathetic level of understanding in government is pretty remote.
    BTW, Matt, you seem to have overlooked that if GB can screw a couple of billion out of EdF to take our nuclear white elephant away, at least we can pay off the fuel poor and pretend there is no crisis. Unfortunately we probably wont be able to persuade the French taxpayer to take over the waste disposal bill as well!

  4. Stephan Smith says:

    Hi microchap,

    Just to clarify, I’m not against electricity generation from ‘big wind’ [turbines]. As you correctly point out the technology is proven and the costs well understood if a little hard on the average consumers pocket. I am just concerned – as you are – that people shouldn’t see it as THE solution and wonder why the Government is dragging its feet in wholesale installation, but rather as part of an integrated and [strongly] sustainable national energy policy. Trying to match another country’s wind generating quota might not be a good measure of value for money in our particular set of economic and demand requirements. Also, I do rather like your micro generation suggestions as being part of this policy 🙂

  5. Stephan Smith says:

    Also, whilst I’m at the computer, what do you think of constructing at least one breeder reactor to help smooth demand on those non-windy or rainy days – or for the post-Corrie cup of tea – and help chew through our stockpile of nuclear waste at the same time?

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