2020 renewable heat and transport targets Contents

2The 2020 targets

Targets and background

6.The UK’s targets—to source 15% of all energy and 10% of transport fuels from renewables by 2020—originate in the EU’s 2009 Renewable Energy Directive.8 Each Member State was required to publish a National Renewable Energy Action Plan, adopting sub-targets for electricity, heat and transport.9 The UK’s Plan was published in 2010 and suggests the following breakdown:

It describes these targets as “purely illustrative”.11 However, the Secretary of State confirmed this as “the UK’s plan” in November 2015.12

Box 2: Renewable energy

Energy is renewable if it is derived from natural processes and replenished more rapidly than expended. The Renewable Energy Directive lists the following renewable fuels:

  • Wind, solar and hydro energy
  • Bioenergy (energy from combustion of plant and animal matter)
  • Waste energy, such as landfill gas
  • Aerothermal, geothermal and hydrothermal energy (heat from the air, ground and water, respectively)

There is major overlap between the categories of renewable and low-carbon energy: both exclude fossil fuels—oil, coal and natural gas—which are finite and emit high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. However, not all renewable energy is low-carbon (and vice-versa). For example, nuclear electricity is low-carbon but not renewable (as its primary fuel, uranium, is a finite resource). Bioenergy is renewable but its carbon footprint is debated: see chapter 4 for further analysis. Renewable energy has benefits beyond decarbonisation: it never runs out, and can replace expensive or unreliable imports.

Sources: Directive 2009/28/EC, Article 2; International Energy Agency, ‘Renewables’, accessed 1 September 2016

7.The Government has transposed the Renewable Energy Directive into UK law, primarily through The Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources Regulations 201113 and the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2011.14 While this inquiry has focused on meeting the targets, we also consider (in chapter 5)—in light of the EU referendum result—whether they are worth keeping.


8.22.31% of electricity, 5.64% of heat, and 4.23% of transport fuel consumption was met by renewable sources in 2015: this equates to 8.31% of all energy.15

Figure 1

How close is the UK to its 2020 renewable energy targets?

Heat 12% target, UK at 5.64%

Electricity 30% target, UK at 22.31%

Transport 10% target, UK at 4.23%

Source: BEIS, Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2015

9.The UK is three-quarters of the way towards its 30% electricity sub-target. Indeed, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, told us “we are heading on current projections for 35%”.16 National Grid predicts, similarly, that the UK will reach 34% by 2020.17 However, success in electricity may not compensate for underperformance in heat and transport.

10.“The biggest challenge is decarbonising the heating sector”, National Grid posits.18 The UK is not yet halfway towards its 12% heat sub-target. Dunelm Energy, a consultancy, predicted only 5% of heat would be renewable in 2020; E.ON (a major supplier), the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Renewable Energy Association (REA) all forecast 8–9%.19 None of the written submissions we received asserted the heat sub-target would be met; approximately 45% claimed it would be missed.

11.The UK’s journey towards its 10% transport target reversed between 2014 and 2015, when the proportion of renewable energy fell from 4.93% to 4.23%.20 Internationally, “the transport sector is where renewable energy has made the least progress in recent years”, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).21 Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, claimed that the Government was “on track to deliver”.22 However, British Sugar and Vivergo (a biofuel producer) contended “reaching the 2020 target will be all but impossible”.23 Projections for 2020 include 4% (Dunelm), 7% (REA) and 8% (ICE).24 We received no written submission that anticipated the transport target would be met, and approximately 40% explicitly expected it not to be.

12.The Secretary of State’s leaked letter suggested that the UK would miss the overall 15% target by 3.5 percentage points.25 National Grid’s best-case scenario has a 3-percentage-point undershoot, with the 15% target not reached until 2022; the worst-case scenario does not see the 2020 target met until 2029.26 During our inquiry, we conducted a Twitter poll on the question, “Will the UK meet its 2020 targets?”; 91% of 66 voters said “no”.27 Though not necessarily expert opinion, this result suggests that our stakeholders—the wider public and policy community—lack faith in the Government’s strategy.

13.The transport sub-target is inflexible—it is a strict minimum level, and none of our witnesses expected it to be surpassed—but electricity could compensate for some shortfall in heat. The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) suggested “consideration should … be given to increasing the sub-target for electricity to make up for likely deficits in the other areas”.28 If the UK reaches 10% in transport (with ‘double counting’)29 and 9% in heat, renewable electricity will need to rise to 39–40% for the overall target to be met, according to the REA.30 This is a stretch beyond the Government’s hoped-for 35% (see paragraph 10). Renewable electricity’s relative success is helpful, but not a panacea.

14.On its current course, the UK will fail to achieve its 2020 renewable energy targets. This would be an unacceptable outcome given the UK’s reputation for climate-change leadership.

8 Directive 2009/28/EC, Article 3(4) and Appendix I

9 Directive 2009/28/EC, Article 4(1)

13 The Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/243)

14 The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2011 (SI 2011/2937)

15 BEIS, Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2015, Renewable sources of energy, Renewable sources data used to indicated progress under the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive (measured using net calorific values) (DUKES 6.7), July 2016

16 Q151

17 National Grid, Future Energy Scenarios 2016, July 2016, p134

18 National Grid, Future Energy Scenarios 2016, July 2016, p132

19 Dunelm Energy (HAT0007); ICE (HAT0023), para 1.2; REA (HAT0053), para 6; E.ON (HAT0068), para 5

20 BEIS, Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2015, Renewable sources of energy, Renewable sources data used to indicated progress under the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive (measured using net calorific values) (DUKES 6.7), July 2016

22 Q151

23 Vivergo Fuels Ltd (HAT0025), para 7; British Sugar (HAT0043), para 7

24 Dunelm Energy (HAT0007); ICE (HAT0023), para 1.2; REA (HAT0053), para 6

26 National Grid, Future Energy Scenarios 2016, July 2016, p132

27 Energy and Climate Change Committee (@CommonsECC), Poll: 2020 renewables targets, Twitter, 12 July 2016

28 UKERC (HAT0041)

29 The energy content of transport biofuels produced from wastes and residues counts is doubled in accounting for the 10% transport sub-target. This ‘double counting’ does not, however, apply to the overall 15% target.

30 REA (HAT0053), para 6, Figure 1

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

7 September 2016