ESG and Sustainability Insights

Developments in the green energy sector

6 minute read time


2020 was joint hottest year on record

Despite falls in fossil fuel usage, 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, equalling temperatures seen in 2016.

Even though lockdowns meant a 7% drop in the burning of fossil fuel, carbon dioxide still built up in the atmosphere, and the average surface temperature across the globe was 1.02ºC above the baseline 1951 – 1980 mean. The seven hottest years on record have now all occurred since 2014.

US to rejoin Paris Agreement

Hours after being sworn in as US president, Joe Biden laid out plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement, stating the nation would take part in climate negotiations once more. The move was central to the new president’s environmental policies, and the first step in undoing many of his predecessor’s. President Biden has signed a series of executive orders focusing on climate change, including freezing new oil and gas leases on public land, banning some energy drilling, and aiming to double offshore wind energy production over the next nine years.

Prince Charles launches Earth Charter

The Prince of Wales is urging businesses to commit to more sustainability by 2030. His Terra Carta provides a road map for organisations to improve their green credentials by adhering to nearly 100 actions, such as supporting international agreements, backing efforts to protect and restore the planet’s biodiversity, and making climate-conscious investments.

Part of the prince’s Sustainable Markets Initiative, the ‘Earth Charter’ aims to raise more finance to invest in nature and will be updated annually to keep pace with environmental progress.

Companies using science to beat emissions targets

New research suggests that companies that use science-based targets to guide their contribution to the fight against climate change are set to overreach them. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) helps companies meet the terms of the Paris Agreement, notably the aim of keeping global warming under 1.5°C.

SBTi’s latest study suggests that those organisations that adhere to scientific targets cut emissions at a faster rate than would be required to meet the goals of the agreement.

Analysis indicates that between 2015 and 2019, 338 companies reduced scope 1 and 2 emissions by 25%, despite global emissions rising by 3.4% in that time.


Renewables rise, and wind farms blow out coal and gas

2020 was a record-breaking year for renewables in the EU, as it was the first time they generated more electricity than fossil fuels.

According to British think tank Ember and Germanys Agora Energiewende, renewable sources generated 38% of Europe’s electricity, compared with 37% for fossil fuels.

Another study claims that in 2020 wind farms made their biggest contribution to the energy sector to date. According to data from energy insight platform EnnAppSys, coal and gas energy dropped to record lows in the UK, as wind farms delivered 15% of generation across Europe.

A total of 429 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity was generated by wind farms last year, up 4% on 2019. It is thought that renewables delivered 41% of Europe’s power in 2020, nuclear 25% and fossil fuels 33%.


Kwarteng replaces Sharma as BEIS secretary

Alok Sharma has stepped down from running the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to focus on his duties as COP26 president, as Kwasi Kwarteng takes over as BEIS secretary of state. Sharma was appointed president of the UNs COP26 climate conference by the prime minister last year. The event is set to take place in Glasgow in November, uniting world leaders and environmental experts from nearly 200 countries.

2020 saw 186% rise in electric vehicle registrations

New data shows the UK had a bumper year for battery electric vehicle (EV) sales in 2020, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). More than 108,000 units were sold despite the coronavirus pandemic, with 200,000 predicted to be on the road by the end of 2021. Of the new cars registered in 2020, 6.6% were pure electric, a considerably larger share than the 1.6% registered in 2019.

This rise is despite a slump in the wider market, where 1.6m new cars were registered in the UK during 2020, compared with 2.3m in 2019.

RAC claims EV prices still deter customers

Despite increased demand, the price of EVs continues to deter potential customers, according to the RAC. Research by the motoring organisation found that nearly eight in 10 drivers deemed pure electric cars to be too expensive.

Of the 3,000 people polled, 9% of respondents said they intended to opt for electric in their next purchase, up from 6% in 2019. When asked, respondents also believed more help was needed from the government, with 53% of drivers saying they would like to see VAT on zero-emission vehicles either reduced or abolished entirely.

Just under half of those taking part favoured a scrappage scheme to make switching to a battery-electric model more affordable.

New homes to meet net zero by 2025

From 2025, all new homes will need to be zero-carbon ready, under fresh standards handed down by the government and published in January

The government’s response to the Future Homes Standard consultation means all new homes must have low-carbon heating and be zero-carbon ready over the next four years. It is expected that the properties would produce 75% to 80% lower carbon emissions compared with current levels.

New homes will be expected to produce 31% lower carbon emissions from this year.

Solar energy burned bright in 2020

The UK solar industry had a stellar year in 2020, despite obvious challenges, and far exceeded expectations and predictions.

According to figures released by trade body Solar Energy UK and Solar Media, the UK added 545 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity in 2020, up 27% from the previous 12 months.

Ground-mounted photovoltaic systems accounted for approximately 60% of the new capacity, with the remaining 40% installed on the rooftops of predominantly commercial and industrial buildings. As a result, solar generation reached a record peak of 9.68 gigawatts (GW) in April 2020. By May, solar had supplied 11% of all electricity.

By Louise Hulland