The UK’s Renewables Obligation

The UK’s Renewables Obligation


By Griffin Buch

In May 2007, the government set a goal: cut 60% of carbon emissions by 2050 and source 20% of energy from renewable resources by 2020.


The government’s commitment to expanding the use of renewable energy is called the Renewables Obligation (RO). In 2018, the U.K. had exceeded the original 2020 goal by generating 33% of electricity from renewable resources. By requiring electric utilities to source energy from renewable resources, the government has been quite successful in achieving and exceeding their own RO goals.


Electric vehicles often appear to be the way of the future. Manufacturers have invested countless resources and time in the development of their electric lineups. In recent months, automakers have rolled out electric versions of seemingly every class, from coupes to pickup trucks. While plugging a car into an electrical outlet and eliminating the need for petrol is an effective way to decrease a single vehicle’s carbon emission level, the source of the power grid’s energy is an often-forgotten critical matter. 


More than half of the electrical energy in the U.K. comes from burning fossil fuels. In 2018 alone, 46% of the electricity produced came from natural gas, and 9% came from coal. While the air in London would be cleaner if every car in the city ran on electricity rather than petrol, such a switch would require power utilities to increase electrical energy production significantly and potentially expand the use of fossil fuels.  


Wind energy is one of the top renewable resources used in the U.K. Offshore wind farms generate electricity during high wind periods and store it in batteries for peak time use. Only when utilities provide energy using renewable resources and household technology moves toward electrification will the U.K. be able to cut carbon emissions successfully.


While developments in technology and electrification are a central contributor to reaching carbon emissions targets, no one renewable resource could stand on its own. Solar, geothermal, and hydropower are all effective renewable energy resources, but each relies on processes that can be inconsistent. A city built on solar could lose power on a cloudy day. A community running on hydropower could not handle a drought. As the world comes to rely more on renewable energy, electric utilities must diversify their resources.  


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