This week saw a number of exciting new announcements and major milestones in the drive to tackle climate change.
Here in the UK, this week brought a historic first. The first ever subsidy-free solar farm in the UK. The 45-acre solar farm and energy storage facility can generate 10 megawatts from its 30,000 solar panels. This can provide carbon-free energy to two and half thousand homes.
The only reason it has been possible to build a solar farm in the UK without subsidies is because of the incredible reduction in the cost of renewable energy in the past few years.
This rapid fall in costs and big expansion in capacity has meant that our electricity supply in the UK has never been greener. Over the course of summer this year, the amount of CO2 emitted per KWh generated was more than half its level over the same period 4 years ago.
Over 52% of power came from low-carbon sources this summer, which is far higher than the 35% that came from low-carbon sources in 2013.
There’s still a way to go yet of course. If half of our electricity is coming from low carbon sources, it means the other half is coming from burning fossil fuels such as coal, which needs to stop if we are to prevent dangerously high levels of warming. But if we can halve their use in just 4 years, we can do it again, and transition to totally zero-carbon electricity in less than a decade.
We’re already seeing coal demand in the UK falling off a cliff, thanks to the renewable energy revolution. The use of coal for energy generation in Q2 2017 fell to a record low of 0.6 million tonnes, which was 65% lower than in Q2 2016. Another really big leap towards a more sustainable electricity supply.
Climate change is a global issue, and luckily the renewable energy revolution is far from being just a UK phenomenon.
China announced recently that it has already met its goal of reaching a capacity of 105 GW of solar capacity by 2020, a full 3 years early. China is already the biggest producer of solar energy in the world and has now revised the target to an incredible 200GW, which is over half of the current total global solar capacity. Solar is growing so fast around the world that it is predicted to surpass nuclear energy in total installed capacity by the end of this year.
It’s clear that we’re seeing significant progress being made on making the global electricity supply more sustainable, but that’s only part of the picture. Transport accounts for a third of emissions because at current most forms of transport are powered by fossil fuels.
But this too can change. This week saw Dyson announce that they will be creating an electric car by 2020, meaning there’s another new competitor in the market for electric vehicles. This will encourage innovation and push down costs, which is great news for people wanting to transition to electric vehicles.
In equally exciting news, airline EasyJet announced this week it wants to start flying electric planes on its short haul routes in the next 10-20 years. The electric plane, which is currently being developed by Wright Electric, will have a range of 335 miles, so would be able to cover many popular routes to Europe. This would be a first step to creating a zero-carbon transport infrastructure which could prevent the emissions of billions of tons of CO2.
And finally, today we had a rather ambitious transport announcement from Elon Musk- that his new rocket concept could fly passengers anywhere in the world in under an hour.
And in addition to being sensationally fast, Musk pointed out that the methane-oxygen fuel mix would be net zero-carbon, as it would be created by extracting CO2 from the atmosphere using solar energy. Sounds like something that could seriously disrupt the currently highly polluting model of the aviation industry, so the new tech can’t come soon enough!
All in all, not a bad week.