This section provides a overview and concise information on various forms of renewable energy, including power, heat and transport fuels. More in-depth technical information and all applicable policy is available to REA members by visiting the relevant sector group pages, or contacting the sector group chair.
Policy and Legislation
The main policies covering renewable energy are outlined below.
Feed-in Tariff (FIT)
The FIT started in April 2010. It supports anaerobic digestion, onshore wind, hydro and solar PV projects up to 5MW in capacity, as well as small scale fossil-fuel CHP (capped at a certain number of installations). There were also proposals to support community FIT projects up to 10MW in size, but which were not implemented.
Building on successful policies elsewhere, the FIT aims to be much simpler for the end user than policies such as the RO. It pays a fixed income on all generation with no need to enter into complex commercial negotiations. The FIT also gives a guaranteed minimum income for electricity not used on site - although projects are free to seek better prices elsewhere.
In 2011/12 solar PV was the major beneficiary, overshooting the estimated budget by a large margin. Cost control mechanisms were subsequently introduced for both the FIT and the RHI for all technologies, in which tariffs reduced for new entrants to a scheme if deployment reaches particular levels. Although the PV market is more stable, tariff reductions for the other technologies happened for the first time in 2014. In January 2016 a wholesale review of the FiT scheme introduced a number of changes, including significantly reduced tariffs and quarterly deployment caps, which are of concern to the industry.
The RHI builds on a similar approach to the FIT, although is available at all scales. Unlike electricity, excess heat generation cannot simply be exported onto a grid, so the policy aims to ensure that only useful heat is supported.
The non-domestic RHI opened in November 2011, supporting biomass, solar thermal, water source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, biogas, air source heat pumps, biomass CHP, deep geothermal, and injection of biomethane to the gas grid. The domestic RHI was launched in 2014, open to single domestic installations. To date, the non-domestic scheme has been dominated by biomass boilers and biomethane, and the domestic by air source heat pumps and biomass boilers.
Unlike the renewable electricity policies - which are funded by consumer bills - the RHI is paid for out of generation taxation. The budget is fixed to the end of March 2020/21, with a budget of £1.15bn.
Renewables Obligation (RO)
The RO is the oldest of the current UK financial incentives, having started in 2002. It obliges electricity suppliers to source a proportion of their electricity from renewable sources. Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are awarded to renewable generators, who then sell them to suppliers. Support lasts for 20 years, but the actual value of ROCs depends on the outcome of commercial negotiations rather than being fixed by the policy.
When introduced, all renewable electricity received the same level of subsidy, regardless of the technology used. This changed in 2009, when ‘banding’ was introduced – meaning that support varies depending on the cost of the technology.
The RO is due to close to all new participants without a 'grace period' in April 2017. For onshore wind and solar PV projects, the scheme closes to new applicants in 2016.
Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO)
The RTFO was introduced in April 2008. It is similar in principle to the RO, in that it obliges fuel suppliers to replace a proportion of supply with renewable fuels.
Targets were scaled back in 2009. The Government has yet to set out a trajectory to meeting the binding 2020 targets contained in the Renewable Energy Directive, and has made this conditional on EU-level resolution of controversy over sustainability. This has undermined confidence in the sector - not only has future investment been scaled back but recent data show that even the reduced targets are not being met. This is particularly frustrating as UK-produced fuels have an excellent sustainability record, significantly exceeding expectations in environmental protection and greenhouse gas savings.
Green Deal & Energy Efficiency
The Energy Act 2011 created a new financing framework to enable the provision of fixed improvements to the energy efficiency of households and non-domestic properties, funded by a charge on energy bills that avoids the need for consumers to pay upfront costs. The scheme was closed to new applicants in 2015, BEIS Green Deal information found here.
The Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) scheme is a supplier-led insulation programme which aims to improve 1 million homes between 2015 and 2020.
Electricity Market Reform (EMR) / Contracts for Difference (CfDs)
EMR covers a package of measures including a carbon floor price, an emissions performance standard to rule out new coal generation and a Capacity Mechanism to try to ensure the system has sufficient back up capacity. Contracts for Difference are the new mechanism to replace the RO – although they will also be available for nuclear and carbon capture and storage projects.
Most policies give a more or less fixed income to renewable generators but leave them free to sell the power itself on commercial terms. One drawback of this is that, if market prices go up then the total income for the generator will be higher than expected and they may be over-rewarded – and therefore the impact on consumer bills will be higher than it should be. By the same token, falling power prices would see generator income and consumer bills being lower than expected.
CfDs seek to address this by setting a fixed figure for the total income for a project – ie both the renewables subsidy and the value of the electricity. This total figure is called the ‘strike price’. Government will also take a market average for the power price, known as the ‘reference price’. Rather than being a fixed price, the subsidy paid to the generator will be the difference between the strike price and the reference price. In theory, this gives the best of both worlds, as the generator has certainty over total income and the subsidy – and therefore the impact on consumers - is no higher than necessary.
The policy is now operational but given the complexity, it is not clear how successful this policy will be. Concerns include the auction mechanism for allocating support, available budget, and ensuring that independent generators are fully able to take part.