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Renewable energy landmark a step in the right direction

By Jonatan Pinkse, Professor of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Alliance Manchester Business School

Last week a new milestone was reached in the UK when renewable energy generated more electricity than gas and coal for the first time.

National Grid reported that, on Wednesday lunchtime (7 June 2017), power from wind, solar, hydro and bio mass supplied 50.7% of UK electricity.

Symbolically this is important news, as although the proportion generated was only point seven per cent over half, the election has showed us just how influential small margins can be.

It transpired that the reason why this happened was a little bit down to chance – it happened to be a windy and sunny day. Although this landmark has been seen as a positive one and a step in the right direction, we must also be cautious when looking at this. With so much electricity being produced there are technological problems that arise such as where and how the electricity can be stored. Too much energy in the grid can ultimately disrupt the whole system and lead to wastage.

So we know that this is largely good news but again noting the election where green energy was understandably lower on the agenda following recent events, infrastructure comes down to policy and investment. Who will pay for new infrastructure such as smart grids and can those who provide it make any money from it?

Upgrading systems has sped up and slowed down over the years – wind farms were once rare but are now becoming a more common sight. However the UK still trails some other European countries when it comes to utilising wind energy. Again, policy usually dictates this but other factors play a part; consideration must be given to those who live near coasts, valleys, reservoirs and the like; while nuclear power is a whole different topic with global politics, public resistance and stereotypes playing a part, it is now seen as playing a key role in stabilising renewables.

The future of renewable energy is - similar to the future of the UK outside of the European Union – uncertain. Brexit will and is playing a big part in this as the country is already trying to be a low carbon leader but still wants to do more. The UK leaving the EU could be seen as an opportunity to build its own approach to tackling climate change and secure more renewable energy sources, or destabilise the work that has already happened, in part, through EU laws. Only time will tell.