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The UK still has some way to go to meet its renewable electricity target

The green share of Britain’s power is increasing steadily, but still lags behind Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal’s.

By Aisha Majid

Some 39 per cent of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources in the second quarter of this year, the latest available data shows. While levels fluctuate quarter to quarter depending on factors such as weather conditions, the UK has steadily increased the amount of power generated from renewables in recent years. In 2015 just 25 per cent of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources.

Compared with its European neighbours however, the UK ranks around the middle of the table. In 2021, Austria generated almost four fifths (79 per cent) of its electricity from renewables, primarily from hydro and wind power, followed by Denmark (75 per cent), where wind played a large role too.

Around half of the UK's renewable electricity is generated by wind and the country is one of the world’s leaders in offshore wind power. While offshore wind farms are more efficient, proponents of onshore ones point out that it is one of the cheapest solutions for new electricity, yet onerous planning conditions introduced by David Cameron have effectively prevented their creation since 2015. Recently, however, a backbench rebellion supported by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss has called for the government to lift the de facto ban. Grant Shapps, the Business and Energy Secretary, has suggested that onshore wind should be part of the UK's energy mix, but only with the support of local communities.

In 2021 81 per cent of new wind capacity installed in Europe was onshore, with Germany and Sweden, which both rank above the UK for share of electricity from renewable sources, leading the way. Spain, which also ranks above the UK, generates around a quarter of its renewable energy from wind, almost all of it onshore. While detractors argue that onshore wind farms are ugly, government polling suggests that around four fifths of the British public supports using them. 

The government has pledged to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a key part of which will be last year’s target by Johnson to ensure that 100 per cent of the country’s electricity comes from renewables by 2035. The government has successfully cut emissions from energy in the last three decades. However, the Climate Change Committee, which advises the government, has said that the UK needs to double its wind capacity (whether onshore or offshore) by 2035 to meet its decarbonisation targets.

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[See also: How Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and the Tory rebels converted to onshore wind]

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