The Covid-19 crisis forced an abrupt halt in activity and in doing so, presented us with an opportunity to take stock. It has undoubtedly caused an acceleration of plans already in motion to revolutionise the way in which we generate and consume energy.
The term ‘energy revolution’ was around for some time before the pandemic, but in essence it means the move away from carbon-based fuel to the use of renewable sources of energy, including solar, wind, hydro-power as well as ground heat source and the recycling of bio-methane amongst other innovations. In addition, ‘gigafactories’, for the manufacturing of batteries to store renewable energy, are on the rise and plans to develop sites around the UK are also being announced.
The knock-on effects of the pandemic have been immense and worldwide – in the UK property market alone, they caused an estimated 430,000 property transactions to stall. Experts predict that this will level out in time and that when the market settles, many of these stalled transactions will rebound; some even anticipate a burst of activity will occur as restrictions are lifted further.
But interestingly, even during this period of uncertainty, the energy sector has continued unabated and if anything, we have seen property transactions involving renewable energy being actively pushed forward, even during lockdown, with all those involved very keen to get their projects – including various solar farm projects on which we are advising – completed as quickly as possible.
There is widespread coverage in the media of what appears to be an almost universal accord that ‘the green deal’ must be central to the UK government’s Covid-19 economic recovery plans. The anticipated initiatives and tax reliefs offered by the government will inevitably attract private investment and this is already evident in terms of activity in the renewable energy sector.
Alongside activity, there is also a fresh impetus to re-examine projects involving the restoration of degraded lands, improving sanitation and creating sustainable transport infrastructure. It is clear that many jobs could be created in the short term, spurring innovation, supporting economic diversification, and – by cutting both carbon and air pollution – improving public health and wellbeing.
This week, Tesla gained its UK licence to generate electricity. Tesla is reportedly deciding whether to build a UK gigafactory in Somerset, complete with onsite solar generation technology. Aside from selling excess electricity generated at the facility to the National Grid, the licence will enable Tesla to develop virtual power plants – digitally-connected networks of electric vehicles (EVs), batteries and generation infrastructure.
In Wales, the green light has been given to a new £60m marine energy project in Pembrokeshire, in the same week that battery giant Britishvolt unveiled plans to build a new gigafactory, most likely in Bro Tathan, South Wales. The marine energy project, approved by both the central UK government and the Welsh government, will see a 90sq km testbed for emerging devices created within the Milford Haven Waterway. The gigafactory will operate a solar farm and make batteries for small devices, electric cars and larger units for energy storage by businesses implementing vehicle to grid technology.
So it seems that the energy revolution not only can lead the way out of the Covid-19 crisis, but should, or we will face another devastating crisis in the next decade, this time in climate terms, if we fail to cut emissions.