Report: Most energy execs don’t believe UK will meet 2030 renewables capacity targets
Long planning and connection processes, poor plans for closing the skills gap and other practical challenges are undermining the British clean energy sector’s hopes of scaling up to meet national targets.
That is the conclusion of a new report from environmental and engineering firm RSK, seen exclusively by edie ahead of its publication on Thursday (13 October).
Produced following a series of interviews with senior executives working in renewables in England, Wales and/or Scotland, the report tracks the industry response to the UK Government’s recent decision to increase 2030 generation targets for offshore wind and green hydrogen. It also provides a snapshot of the key, perceived challenges to meeting these increased ambitions.
Three-quarters of those surveyed doubt that the new targets will actually be met, due to several practical barriers to additional capacity deployment which policymakers have been slow to rectify in the past.
One key challenge explored in the report is the fact that many developers experience delays in the planning process or with connecting to the grid. The Government itself admitted in September that the time for consent to be given to large infrastructure projects, such as wind farms, was, on average, 65% longer in 2021 than 2012.
RSK’s report highlights the need for a simpler planning and connection process. It states that a key challenge in the past has been ‘grid blocking’ – the practice of schemes not viable or committed to development securing a grid connection, thus effectively blocking connection opportunities for other schemes.
Related to this is a need to increase energy storage and other forms of energy flexibility. All of the executives interviewed by RSK deemed grid capacity “a significant challenge”.
RSK has acknowledged that the National Grid ESO has moved with the intention of reducing grid blocking. In September, the ESO began consulting on new measures to enable the developers of stalled projects ‘amnesty’, thereby removing the project from the transmission entry capacity (TEC) register. It is also consulting on measures to let viable projects and those ready to connect ‘skip the queue’.
RSK is calling for an even broader grid capacity ‘reset’, in which all non-viable and stalled projects would be ‘cleansed’ from the TEC register and other projects given priority. It claims that this could free up around 10-12GW of capacity.
“With the consent process often taking years, there is considerable concern that this will hinder the UK’s progress toward meeting its targets,” said RSK’s renewable energy business development director Mike Kelly.
“The Government needs to introduce a reset to strengthen and streamline the process in tandem with that for grid connection to enable quicker decision-making. Viable projects could then move from consent to build and finally to grid connection at the pace and scale required. Without urgent reform, implementation will not be able to keep up with demand.”
Another major challenge to meeting the UK’s 2030 renewables targets, the report argues, is the existing skills gap and the fact that there do not seem to be adequate plans from the UK Government to close it.
The UK Government has set a target of hosting two million green jobs by 2030 but has only laid out plans that would deliver less than one million. Moreover, it has published no formal definition of the term ‘green job’, set no sector-specific job creation goals and failed to provide an updated and detailed skills plan since before the 2050 net-zero target was set.
One of the executives interviewed said their organisation is already struggling to fill vacant positions. Two-thirds of those interviewed said they are not confident that existing educational courses are not preparing students for a role in the sector.
The report identifies opportunities for creating new vocational skills courses which would enable those who do not want to attend university to enter the sector. Those interviewed stated that there were enough masters-level courses, but not a good range of courses at lower levels. In tandem with creating these courses, the report states, more investment would be needed at earlier stages, to ensure that younger students would be interested in taking them.
The report also argues that there is a lack of opportunities for skilled workers to transition into the renewables sector mid-career.
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