A woman next to a roof fitted with solar panels

Renewable energy in the UK How wind, wave and sun will power the UK

Why renewable energy sources are the future

We can now see a future where almost all our electricity comes from the wind, wave and sun.

Climate-friendly energy sources reliably powering the UK. And this could happen far faster than politicians believe.

We're already making progress. In just 6 years the UK upped its renewable electricity output from 7% to 25%. What's more, Scotland expects to generate enough renewable energy to power all its electricity needs [PDF] by 2020.

The technology is developing and costs are falling at lightning pace. Global investment in renewable power was US$300 billion in 2015: twice that of fossil fuel power.

Renewable sources are popular and the switch will be good for us – improving our health and environment as well as boosting the UK economy.

Cyclist under a large solar panel in Barcelona's Forum Esplanade promenade
A wind turbine generates electricty in the shadow of Drax, Europe's biggest coal-fired power station

Why renewable energy?

We must act fast to stop burning coal, oil and gas – fossil fuels that heat the atmosphere.

Climate change is already devastating people's lives around the world.

The UK has pledged to prevent global warming from spiralling out of control – by signing the 2015 Paris Agreement. And it's legally bound by its own law to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.

Around 75% of our electricity must come from clean energy sources by 2030. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With new nuclear power looking very expensive, and new gas too polluting, there's only one major source of power we can turn to: renewables.

A wind turbine generates electricty in the shadow of Drax, Europe's biggest coal-fired power station
A large array of solar panels

What will the future energy grid look like?

The UK energy grid relies on a small number of power stations.

Our future electricity system will consist of lots of renewables and decreasing amounts of natural gas. It will be much more diverse. So if something goes wrong with one part of the system, it is far less of a threat to our overall energy security.

A large chunk of power will come from sources, like the sun and wind. And a smaller percentage from tidal, hydro and geothermal.

Our grid will become smarter to match supply and demand – reducing costs while keeping our kettles boiling. Electric cars and batteries will stockpile electricity for us. We might also convert power into hydrogen gas for long-term storage.

A large array of solar panels
Solar PV instalation (for electricity) North London, UK, 2011.

Are renewable energy sources cost effective?

Shifting to renewable electricity will be good value for UK taxpayers.

The price of renewable energy is rapidly falling. Globally, solar costs have dropped 90% since 2009.

In many parts of the world – from California to Chile and South Africa – wind and solar are now the cheapest sources of new electricity.

In the UK, onshore wind is the most affordable new power available. And large-scale solar will likely be competitive or cheaper than new gas within the next 3 years.

Our offshore wind is plummeting in price too. New offshore wind farms will be far cheaper than new nuclear power stations – and probably new gas generation too.

Batteries – useful for energy storage – have also been tumbling in cost.

Learn about the costs of installing solar electricity and solar hot water for your home.

Solar PV instalation (for electricity) North London, UK, 2011.
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What happens to our energy supply when the sun doesn't shine and wind doesn't blow?

Wind and solar may be variable but they are also increasingly predictable.

Thanks to advanced weather forecasting, we now know how much they'll produce, from a day ahead to 5 minutes ahead. This means we can make other sources available for the times they won't be. Including extremely regular renewable energy, like tidal and hydropower.

In any case, no energy source runs 24 hours a day for a whole year.

Power stations come on and offline for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is to cope with a spike in demand for power – like when millions of kettles boil during a commercial break.

To balance these spikes, the UK largely relies on natural gas.

But in the future we'll see larger amounts of energy storage. Gadgets like batteries and electric vehicles will store surplus energy from renewables, and release it when required.

The more renewables there are – and the more diverse they are – the less back-up gas we need.

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 Paul Gascoigne during the 1990 World Cup semi-final against West Germany

Are renewable energy sources reliable?

Blackouts have little to do with the source of power.

They're not caused by the predictable ups and downs of renewable energy.

The grid is used to coping with surges and falls in demand. At half time in England's 1990 World Cup semi-final, millions of fans brewed half-time cuppas. This caused the largest spike in demand for electricity to date, at a power-popping 2,800 megawatts.

Germany and Denmark – frontrunners in renewable electricity – have the 2 most reliable energy systems in Europe. They experience a lot less time without power than the UK does.

Most blackouts happen when something catastrophic goes wrong because of an accident or extreme weather.

For example, in 2015 severe flooding in Lancashire knocked out substations and power lines. Climate change will increase extreme weather – more reason to shift to renewables and exceed our climate goals.

 Paul Gascoigne during the 1990 World Cup semi-final against West Germany
Woman holding a turnip or parsnip in a vegetable garden, Yorkshire, UK

Switch to renewable energy

We work closely with Good Energy and Ecotricity because they are gold-standard green energy suppliers committed to ending the UK’s reliance on filthy fossil fuels.

Switching is easy. You can do it online or on the phone, all you need to do is provide your postcode and answer a few questions.

Once you’ve chosen your tariff and payment method, you can relax safe in the knowledge that your carbon footprint has just got a lot smaller.

Woman holding a turnip or parsnip in a vegetable garden, Yorkshire, UK
Man installing solar panel

Ask your council to invest in renewables

The government must take urgent action to get the UK to "net zero" emissions. We propose six radical yet realistic solutions in our Climate Action Plan, including switching our power supply to renewables. We're also asking councils to tackle climate change, with a Climate Action Plan for councils. This supports local investment in green energy, energy efficiency and ditching new fossil fuel projects. Thousands of people are working alongside their councils to develop a local Climate Action Plans for their community. Will you join them?

Man installing solar panel