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For the first time, renewable energy has generated more than half of all UK electricity – is this a one-hit wonder, asks Kingston University professor

Posted Tuesday 13 June 2017

For the first time, renewable energy has generated more than half of all UK electricity – is this a one-hit wonder, asks Kingston University professor

Professor of Innovation and Technology Management, Audley Genus, says Kingston University research is shedding new light on the success of renewable energy in the United Kingdom.

"On 8 June, as reported by the BBC, the National Grid announced that for the first time electricity generated from renewable energy sources in the UK had outstripped the amount generated from coal and gas combined.

"In fact, on the afternoon of Wednesday 7 June, the amount from renewable sources reached 50.7 per cent of the total energy generated. If nuclear power was to be included (albeit that is obviously somewhat controversial) generation from low carbon sources came to more than 70 per cent of the electricity generated across the country.

"This is a considerable achievement certainly when one considers that only five years ago renewables accounted for only around 12 per cent of electricity generation and low carbon sources about 30 per cent of total electricity generated (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2014).

Photo of PhD student Leigh Champagnie.Small Business Research Centre PhD student Leigh Champagnie is studying how entrepreneurs can boost the low-carbon energy sector.Studies at Kingston University suggest that this performance could be seen in a different light for example Small Business Research Centre PhD student Leigh Champagnie is currently looking in to entrepreneurship in the renewable energy sector.

"Consider, for example, the BBC's reporting of criticisms that renewable energy causes disruption of the ‘established energy system'. It could be argued this is exactly what renewable energy needs to be i.e. ‘disruptive' technology meaning that current institutionalised arrangements and technologies for generating and using energy are challenged so that new ones become the enduring ‘new normal'.

"In addition, there does tend to be a focus on electricity generation when reporting the success or failure of renewable or low carbon energy. This is understandable up to a point. After all, renewables are mostly used for electricity generation about 70 per cent compared with the less than 30 per cent that is used to generate heat.

"However, electricity comprises only 20 per cent of final energy consumed. Petroleum accounts for nearly 50 per cent of final energy consumption, while natural gas comprises more than a quarter. Quite a large part of the story of carbon emission reduction is missed if we overly focus on electricity generation.

"Finally, there is the matter of what counts as ‘renewable energy' and what this might mean in terms of fundamental transformation of the energy system.

"Interviewees in research undertaken by members of Kingston University's Small Business Research Centre/Responsible Innovation and Sustainability Entrepreneurship Research Group (RISE) hold different views. For many, feeding renewables into a relatively unchanged centralised grid-based energy system represents only an incremental development as opposed to the serious challenge to ‘business as usual' that is required if citizen-consumers are to become more energy-literate and reflective about changing consumption practices, and thus achieve lower carbon emissions through reduced energy use.

"Alternative models of renewable energy emphasise: co-location of generation and use; community-ownership; innovative, entrepreneurial business models and decentralised, small-scale initiatives."

Photo of Professor Audley GenusProfessor of Innovation and Technology Management at Kingston Business School Audley Genus is involved in a number of research projects looking at ways to increase the use of renewable energy sources.

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