EU Renewable Energy Directive


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Renewable energy sources are considered as a more appropriate energy source compare to non-renewable sources because of their inexhaustible characteristic. Therefore, renewable energies are sustainable.  Renewable energy can be derived from different sources such as biomass, wind, tidal, hydro, solar and geothermal (Foster, Ghassemi & Cota 2009). The European Union formulated a renewable energy policy in 1997. The policy’s objective is to improve European Union’s competitiveness by enhancing energy security and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions amongst the member states.  To promote adoption of renewable energy, the European Union has adopted the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which requires the member states to derive 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Irrespective of this directive, the member states have set their national renewable targets. For example, Malta has set a national target of 10% while Sweden has set a target of 49% (European Union 2016).

The UK is committed at achieving the RED. The country has set its national renewable energy target at 15% by 2020, which is relatively low compared with the RED.  Nevertheless, the country is largely dependent on fossil-based energy sources. This aspect is indicated by a 20% decline in dependence on gas consumption between 2005 and 2012, which is the largest source of heat energy in the UK (Fiona 2015).  To attain the RED, the UK must consider integrating a mix of renewable energy sources. Amongst the renewable energy sources that the UK should consider entail solar and hydro energy sources.  This paper examines how realistic exploitation of hydro and solar energy would be in the UK context. The paper also evaluates the benefits and limitations associated with hydro and solar energy.



Hydropower refer refers to energy which is generated from water. Hydropower constitutes the largest source of renewable energy. Bagher et al (2015) assert that hydro energy accounts for 16% of the total electricity generated globally. It is projected that electricity generation from hydropower will grow by an annual rate of 3.1% over the next 25 years (Bagher eta al 2015).  The UK is characterised by enormous water resources that can be used to generate energy. A report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Environmental Agency (2013) affirms that the UK generates only 1.5% of its electricity from hydropower schemes which is considerably low compared to the available water resources.  One of the sources of hydropower that the UK should consider entails tidal power. A study conducted by the Great Britain Parliament House of Lords (2008) affirms that ‘the UK has outstanding tidal resources that could provide at least 10% of the country’s electricity through a combination of technologies’ (p.323). This finding is further supported by Global Green (2016), which stipulates that the UK can supply over 25% of its energy by exploiting its wave resource.  This presents a significant contribution to the country’s energy needs.  Nevertheless, the UK is yet to fully exploit the water resources in generating energy. 

In order to exploit the hydropower, the UK should consider focusing on three main hydropower generation schemes, which include storage schemes, run-of-river schemes. Investing in these schemes requires a substantial budgetary allocation. For example, the construction of the Glendoe Hydroelectric Power Plant cost the UK $ 160 million (Kable 2016). Over the years, the UK has developed efficient technology that can be leveraged in generating hydropower. Extensive technological innovations have led to development of technologies that have energy conversion efficiency levels of 90% (Department of Energy and Climate Change and Environmental Agency 2013).  The British Hydropower Association (2016) accentuates that hydro installations have a lifespan of over 100 years. By leveraging on these technologies, the UK will improve its energy generation capability. This means that the likelihood of the UK achieving sustainable renewable energy source is high.

Benefits and limitations

Exploitation of hydropower is associated with a number of benefits and limitations as illustrated herein.  First, hydropower constitutes a reliable source of energy because of its inexhaustible characteristic. This arises from the fact that it is possible to generate electricity at a constant rate after installing the power generation plant.  The reliability of hydropower plant is further enhanced by the fact that the water reservoirs can save water to be used to generate electricity depending on the prevailing energy demand (Newton & Cantarello 2014).  Due to the storage capacity associated with hydropower plants, it is possible for the UK government to ensure price stability of electricity. Generating electricity from water sources is also relatively safe compared to nuclear and fossil fuel sources.  Additionally, hydropower is very clean because it does not contribute to   greenhouse gas emissions and leaves no waste (Bagher 2015).

Despite the above benefits, constructing large hydropower dams can lead to extensive geological damage, which might trigger occurrence of earthquake (Jackson 2005).    Construction of hydropower dams is associated with a huge opportunity cost.  A significant cost is also incurred in establishing hydropower dams as illustrated by graph 1 in appendix 1 (Renewables First 2016).  It is also impossible to reduce the cost of constructing the power plant by 50% depending on the size of the hydropower plant as indicated by table 1 in appendix 2. In addition, the hydropower dams might lead to displacement of communities.  Thus, apart from the cost of constructing the dam, additional cost might be incurred in compensating the affected parties.

Solar power

            Solar energy is derived from exploitation of electromagnetic waves radiated by the sun.  Solar power can be tapped directly or indirectly using photovoltaics (PV) or concentrated solar power (CSP) systems (Quaschning 2016).  The UK is characterised by enormous solar energy resource. In 2012, over 1.8 GW of PV was generated from solar energy. The UK solar energy resource is projected to increase because of the increase in the rate of climate change (Burnett, Barbour & Harrison 2014). By using these technologies, the UK can be able to exploit the available solar energy resource.  Over the past three years, the UK has experienced a remarkable increase in the size of investment with reference to exploitation of solar energy.  Over £ 5.7 billion have been invested in solar energy generation over the past 3 years and an additional £ 4.7 billion is expected to be invested over the next 2 years (Pricewaterhousecoopers 2016). The Department of Energy and Climate Change and Environmental Agency (2013) states that ‘solar photovoltaic is a mature, proven technology and is a reliable source of renewable energy with an important role to play in the UK energy mix’ (p.7). Despite the potential energy inherent in solar energy, Foster, Ghassemi and Cota (2009) affirm that the resource has been given low priority by businesses and governments.    The UK is one of the countries that are yet to exploit solar energy through application of the requisite technologies. A report released by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association in 2013 shows that the UK has only deployed 6% of solar energy compared to 20% and 44% in Italy and Germany respectively (Department of Energy and Climate Change and Environmental Agency 2013). However, technological development will improve the efficiency with which the UK exploits solar energy.

Benefits and limitations

There are different benefits and limitations associated with exploiting solar energy. First, solar energy constitutes an inexhaustible source of clean energy. Unlike hydropower, solar energy is characterised by a high degree of viability and cost-effective. This arises from the fact that it can be used as a viable source of energy in regions located far from the conventional electric grid such as power lines. Solar energy can be used as an alternative source of energy for commercial, domestic and industrial uses. The cost of maintaining solar systems is relatively low upon installation of the solar system (Miller & Spoolman 2011). Additionally, solar energy presents a clean source of energy and its generation does not emit greenhouse gases hence making it environmental friendly.

Despite the above benefits, solar energy is relatively unreliable. This arises from the fact that the generation of solar power is influenced by availability of sun light, which is hindered by cloud cover. Additionally, a substantial surface area is required in order to layout the solar panels required to generate adequate electricity. Thus, a substantial cost might


The analysis shows that the UK is characterised by substantial hydro and solar resources. However, the UK is yet to fully exploit the two resources in enhancing its energy security.  Nevertheless, the UK can enhance its energy mix by tapping into the two resources. The analysis on the benefits and limitation shows that hydro and solar resources are characterised by high benefits.  One of the fundamental benefits of the two energy resources related to its inexhaustible characteristic. Therefore, the UK should consider leveraging on the two resources.  Its capacity to exploit hydropower and solar energy is underlined by technological innovations with reference to energy generation that have occurred over the past decades. By tapping into the two resources, the UK will be able to meet the growing energy demand.



Reference List

Bagher, M et al 2015, ‘Hydroelectric energy advantages and disadvantages’, American Journal of Energy Sources, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 17-20.

British Hydropower Association: For the perfect energy mix, just add water 2016. [Online]. Available at:

<> (Accessed 18 July 2016).

Burnett, D, Barbour, E & Harrison, G 2014, ‘The UK solar energy resource and the impact of climate’, Renewable Energy, vol. 71, pp. 333-343.

European Commission (2009). Renewable energy directive. [Online]. Available at:


(Accessed 18 July 2016).

Department of Energy and Climate Change: Renewable statistics 2013. [Online]. Available at:

<> (Accessed 18 July 2016).

 Department of Energy and Climate Change: UK solar PV strategy part 1; roadmap to a brighter future 2013. [Online]. Available at: <>

(Accessed 18 July 2016).

Fiona, H 2015, UK on track to meet its renewable energy targets. [Online]. Available at:

< > (Accessed 18 July 2016).

Foster, R, Ghassemi, M & Cota, A 2009, Solar energy; renewable energy and the environment, CRC Press, New York.

Global Green: Wave power 2016. [Online]. Available at: < > (Accessed 18 July 2016).

Great Britain Parliament House of Lords. (2008). The economics of renewable energy; recent developments, The Stationery Office, London.

 Jackson, D 2005, Building the ultimate dam, University of Oklahoma, Norman.

 Kable: Glondoe hydropower plant, United Kingdom 2016. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 18 July 2016).

Miller, T & Spoolman, S 2011, Living in the environment; principles, connections and solutions, Cengage Learning, New York.

Newton, A & Cantarello, E 2014, An introduction to the green economy; science, systems and sustainability, Routledge, New York.

Pricewaterhousecoopers:  Review of the UK renewable energy sector 2016. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 18 July 2016).

Quaschning, V 2016, Understanding renewable energy systems, Routledge, New York.

Renewables First: How much does a hydropower system cost to build?  2016. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 18 July 2016).





Appendix 1


Cost of hydropower production

Maximum Power Output

Estimated Project Cost

£ / kW installed

25 kW



50 kW



100 kW



250 kW



500 kW




Source: (Renewables First 2016)




£ 10 .00