A History of Renewable Energy in the UK: + How Landowners Can Keep Up

Topic: wind farm extension Read Time: 8 mins
Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners
Energy: Onshore wind
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The UK has become one of the largest global hubs for renewable energy. If you’re looking to find out about the history of renewable energy in the UK, read ahead for our take on this fast-moving energy source (and how landowners can keep up!).

It’s no secret that renewable energy has come a long way since the first windmill popped up in 7th century Persia. But just how far have we come in our search for a sustainable and clean energy source in the UK?

From the first solar energy system founded in 19th century France to the impressive rise of wind turbines in the UK, the history of renewable energy goes back further than you might think!

Although taking a step back in time is always fascinating, landowners might be interested to find out just how relevant renewable energy is becoming.

It’s one thing that the government has pledged to make 100% of the UK’s electricity renewable by 2035. Plus, leasing your land to renewable energy projects can be an excellent investment that benefits both the planet and your finances. 

Whether you’re interested in learning about the future of energy in the UK or want to get a fantastic deal on your renewables site, just stick with us. We promise that there are a few key nuggets of information in this history lesson that will prove useful.

A Brief History of Renewable Energy

The birth of renewable energy – Middle Ages to 1878

Although renewables weren’t a major source of energy in the UK until the mid-1990s, we’ve been dabbling with wind power since the Middle Ages.

Believe it or not, there were windmills in the UK from as early as 1185 in the charming village of Weedley in Yorkshire. They weren’t made to generate electricity (which hadn’t been invented yet!), but they were certainly useful for grinding grain and pumping water.

If you fast-forward to 1878, we have real progress with hydroelectric power. The world’s first hydroelectric power scheme was created in Northumberland by William George Armstrong to power a single lamp.

It was a revelation, but it didn’t really catch on as 88% of electricity generation was produced by coal while the other 11% was all about oil.

Modern uses of renewable energy – 1970s to mid-1990s

After the coal mining strike of 1972, there was increasing pressure on the UK to invest in alternative energy sources.

When you throw in the rise of wind energy and environmentalism in the USA, there was serious pressure on the government to make a change.

The first major step forward came in 1987 when a 3.7 MW wind turbine on Orkney began supplying British homes with clean energy. Then, the first onshore wind farm was built in Cornwall in 1991, which allowed 10 turbines to supply energy to 2,700 homes.

With the help of an offshore wind farm in North Hoyle, the UK increased its electricity generation from renewables to 14.9% in 2013. But how exactly were these pioneers supported by the government and what steps were taken to achieve this? And how much has energy diversification changed since then?

Well, let’s find out.

An infographic showing the history of wind turbines

The importance of privatization

After a pretty tumultuous period with the oil crisis, the UK’s energy sector was privatised in 1989. It was designed to bring competition, reduce prices, and encourage the growth of renewables.

As we briefly mentioned earlier, the very first onshore wind farm was developed in Delabole in 1991. It was an incredible location for a large-scale wind farm, as it received over 40% of the continent’s wind each year!  To encourage the rise of renewable energy, this wind farm was commissioned by the government and was heavily subsidised.

And with the success of the UK’s first wind farm came an influx of landowners who wanted to get involved with the continued growth of the clean energy sector. 

As landowners needed to supply the land that was suitable for producing wind energy, they were incentivised with between 1-2.5% of the total income generated by wind farms during the 1990s. 

When it came to landfill sites, landowners could expect to receive around 15% of the total income from landfill gas production over the same period.

It’s key to remember that back then and today incomes can vary widely depending on how contracts are negotiated. For this reason, transparency in the market is crucial for achieving the best percentage share possible.

Photo showing the history of renewable energy projects in the UK

P.S.: If you’re looking to negotiate the best terms for your wind farm extension, then you may want to use a few power tools during the renegotiation process.

What Came Next?

After this huge step forward in the 1990s, the number of renewable energy sites in the UK has rapidly grown. In 2020 alone, they represented 43.1% of the electricity produced in the UK. This was up from 2% in 1990 and 15% in 2013. Talk about progress.

a pie chart showing the cumulative number of renewable energy in the UK

The impact of subsidies

With decent support from the government in the form of subsidies, the number of energy projects on UK land skyrocketed. In fact, offshore and onshore projects accounted for an impressive 40% and 26% of the UK’s renewable profile in 2010. But cuts to subsidies for these projects in recent years hit hard.

Although subsidies weren’t axed entirely, the government removed support funding for new wind farm extensions several years ago. The government is slowly warming up to renewable energy with its Contracts for Difference scheme (offering £285 million a year for low-carbon technology). 

But support for projects has dwindled as government support for onshore wind has reduced over the years. Throw in the increased planning permission hurdles faced by landowners and site operators, and it’s easy to see why progress has slowed.

What Challenges Have Landowners Faced (And How Can We Help?)

Landowners have had to overcome many challenges over the years. From endless meetings and contract negotiations to securing planning permission, it’s never an easy task to get projects off the ground! Plus, problems don’t necessarily stop once your project is up and running. 

Whether you’re struggling with late payments, out-of-date information, disputes with neighbours, or planning permission rules, it’s a tricky world to navigate. For this reason, it’s always helpful to engage with professional advisors who will offer impartial advice and expert knowledge.

And that’s where the team at Lumify comes in.

Not only do we have access to the latest information in a fast-moving sector, but we’re here to make these projects more understandable and help all parties reach a favourable arrangement.

In 20 years, we’ve seen rates for projects range from 1% up to 50%. So, we’ve committed ourselves to a data-driven approach that will get you the best rates possible.

There’s no manual to success with a wind farm extension, but removing the smoke and mirrors never fails to make things easier. If you don’t want to take our word for it, why not listen to our land agent partners?

picture of yellow quotation marks

Before the review, I had a good understanding of the rent methodology but could never undertake an audit to the same extent as Lumify Energy.

Chris Tyher MRICS FAAV, Rural Associate Director, GSC Grays.

Looking to the Future of Renewables in the 21st Century

Renewable energy has come a long way since the days of the first windmill.

With gas prices skyrocketing thanks to the war in Ukraine and a global boycott of Russian resources, the government is constantly on the lookout for cheaper electricity alternatives.

By investing heavily in renewables, the UK will naturally become more self-sufficient through energy diversification. Solar energy and onshore wind farms were beaten down by both Sunak and Truss in the 2022 Conservative leadership race. But it quickly became clear that the general public was largely supportive of cleaner alternatives to classic energy-sourcing methods.

Despite the turbulence of the UK government in recent years, landowners should be hopeful that clean energy remains the way forward and that net-zero limits will be reached by 2050.

As this target will require far more onshore wind and solar projects to reach, there’s every reason to believe that renewables will become an even more crucial piece of the UK’s energy puzzle.

For landowners who are considering having a wind farm placed on their land, watch this space. There is a lot of talk about the possibility of the government loosening planning permission for new wind farm projects. For landowners with existing wind farms on their land, we are seeing new wind farms being commissioned all the time and improved wind turbine technology which is leading to increased energy generation.

Over the years, we’ve learned new lessons and gained crucial insights, which we’ve used to modernise and move our clients’ projects forward.

As we look forward to the future, many are asking questions such as:

  • How much do wind farms make?
  • Will full subsidies return?
  • Will the renewable project on my land fulfil its potential?
  • Is the outlook still bright for renewables?

If you’re worried about the future of renewables, we’re happy to say that we’re seeing landowners receive a share of up to 20% of the total income generated by their wind farm extensions (which is huge). Income is particularly impressive when the project has been operational for several years, and the original investment has been paid off.

It’s also worth noting that sites with a grid connection have become scarce and highly valuable, giving landowners more options when their projects come to an end.

As wind farm projects reach the end of their life, site operators often opt to repower their sites. This essentially means replacing their original turbines with more powerful models. Not only do these newly commissioned turbines use the latest technology and double their generation capacity, but you can use fewer of them to generate the same output.

We’re aware that the removal of subsidies is still a difficult area to navigate, but with the relaxation of the electricity supply licensing, there are currently options such as peer-to-peer or corporate power purchase agreements (CPPAs) that would enable electricity to be generated and sold directly to end consumers.

After all, the net-zero goals are still a big focus for the UK government.

It’s worth noting that we’ve had major insights into the growth of the renewable energy sector since its rise in the 1990s. And we’ve gleaned crucial information and data points from these insights to create our innovative SiteScan(™) products. 

Our scans utilise comprehensive market data to benchmark a site’s value and help landowners get the most out of their renewable energy projects. So, you’ll never have to head to the negotiation table without all the tools you’ll need for success.

SiteScan GIF

Compare the rents at hundreds of wind farms across the UK.

Access the best contractual terms written by the UK’s top solicitors to attain your ideal lease

100% of the landowners that we work with increase their rent negotiation offers

The Takeaway

Renewable energy has come a long way, and the future looks bright for its future in the UK.

For landowners with projects on their land, we advise that they are proactive and work closely with their site operator to establish solid and positive future plans for their renewable energy projects. This almost always ensures they won’t lose out financially, but it also means that they can work positively with their project developer in supporting the continued operation and repowering efforts of existing projects. 

With the right help, landowners can approach their projects with greater insights and information than ever before.

By harnessing their newfound visibility and improving their contracts, landowners can make better long-term decisions about the renewable projects on their land. If you need help navigating your wind farm extension or re-powering get in touch with us. Our expert team will guide you each step of the way to achieve the best outcome possible.