How Wales is powering ahead on renewables

solar_panels_wales_original-copyThis blog is by Amy Leppänen, communications assistant at Green Alliance.

Yesterday’s news on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon has refocused attention on renewable energy opportunities in Wales. But where has the country got to so far? Wales has been known as a coal nation and global hub of the industrial revolution, second only to England. But our research indicates that the Welsh have lost none of their pioneering spirit and are now powering up for the renewables era.

Welsh counties are topping the tables
Our Renewable Energy Locator, based on detailed analysis we commissioned from Regen SW, maps renewable energy in England and Wales, and shows that Welsh counties are giving their English counterparts a run for their money. It shows that the Welsh county of Dyfed was in the top ten for both onshore wind and solar energy generation in 2016, with Powys and Mid Glamorgan in the top ten for onshore wind. (We used the Welsh preserved counties for a like for like comparison with English counties).

What is more, as one of ten regions covered by the data, Wales overall ranks first for onshore wind and hydropower energy generation, fourth for offshore wind and fifth for solar both for heat and electricity.

Comparing the 2015 and 2016 data, Gwynedd and Mid Glamorgan have topped the progress tables for new installations over the past year. In fact, surprisingly for such a rainy region, Gwynedd was way ahead of other counties on solar, increasing its capacity by 220MW, enough to power 36,000 homes.

New solar farms such as Parciau farm in Gwynedd, are having a positive impact on the local economy, securing long term income for local farmers. And this progress is set to continue as two similar solar farms (another 10MW) are lined up for construction in Pwhelli.

So is Wales actively trying to be a low carbon pioneer?
With economic progress at the heart of its ambitions, the Welsh government has prioritised renewable energy projects, including tidal lagoons and community energy schemes. As renewable technologies continue to fall in cost, with onshore wind now cheaper than new gas plants, and solar costs dropping dramatically in recent years, investment in clean energy is a sensible strategy. The desire to move away from its traditional association with fossil fuels, and be known as a clean energy nation, is a sentiment repeatedly echoed by the Welsh government. It is also walking the talk, recently announcing that all electricity bought for public services in Wales would be from renewable energy by 2017, with at least 50 per cent from Welsh sources by April.

Over 76 per cent of the UK public supports renewables and the Welsh government is keen to energise its local communities to take pride in them, by giving people more control and a direct interest in their development. Last month, Wales’ largest community energy project, Awel Aman Tawe wind farm went live, funded by a combination of community ownership and Welsh government investment. Public investors are receiving a five per cent return and profits are being ploughed back into the local community. It’s a great example of communities helping to tackle climate change and taking control of their own energy.

Projects like this are also leading the way in developing new business models. Cyd Ynni, an ‘energy club’ in Gwynedd, is pioneering a pilot project with Ynni Ogwen Cyf (Ogwen Energy Ltd) and Energy Local to deliver locally generated energy directly to local people. This enables communities to pool their locally owned energy generation and manage their own demand, while also saving themselves money and reducing their carbon emissions.

Clearer UK government policy is needed
But for Wales to continue its renewables progress elsewhere, the UK government needs clearer policy. Supportive policy has helped to advance Welsh renewables deployment in recent years. But unexpected changes, such as reductions to feed-in tariffs for renewable energy, and a local veto on planning consent for onshore wind turbines, have left a policy gap at the end of the decade and question marks over the future of renewables deployment in the UK. The UK government needs to implement a strong carbon plan this year, providing continued certainty and a clear direction for the renewables sector.

The leadership shown by Wales is something that could be magnified right across the UK. As the example of Wales shows, renewables progress not only benefits local communities but will also help to uphold the UK’s climate and economic resilience in an uncertain world.

The Renewable Energy Locator has been updated with new data for 2016. It allows people in England and Wales to see how renewable energy is doing in their area compared with others and the year before.

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