It might sound an odd thing to say in the middle of an energy crisis, says Andrew Sissons in the FT, but we may be entering a “new era of abundant energy”. Not because of nuclear fusion – exciting as recent breakthroughs in that field are – but because of boring old renewables. Over the past week, “renewable energy has met more than half of the UK’s demand for electricity”, breaking records for wind power generation. Gas, the dirty and expensive bit of the electricity grid, chipped in just 14%. Parts of Scotland were regularly powered with “zero carbon emissions”.
“And there is a lot more to come.” The UK is on track to double offshore wind capacity from 14 to 28 gigawatts by 2027, and the plan is for it to nearly double again to 50GW by 2030. To put that in context, our average electricity demand this week was 33GW. Building this kit is only getting cheaper, driving electricity prices fantastically low. And the age-old problem of keeping the lights on when the wind isn’t blowing is fast being solved by improvements in energy storage tech. In other words, there is now the prospect of “abundant, clean, nearly inexhaustible energy” by the late 2030s. This will allow us not only to gorge on electricity guilt-free, but also to fix some major problems: desalination plants and carbon capture facilities are amazing solutions to urgent issues, but they guzzle power. Lucky for us, our new challenge may not be using less energy, “but figuring out how to use more”.