The Cost of Renewable Energy in the UK

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Explore the cost of renewable energy. Learn about pricing, financial incentives, and the long-term benefits of switching to sustainable energy sources.

The Cost of Renewable Energy in the UK

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With the need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as great as ever and the target of reaching net zero by 2050 still looming, renewable energy use in the UK has significantly increased in the 21st century. Wind, solar, and biomass each contribute a major share to the energy mix. By 2023, renewables accounted for around 40% of electricity generation, driven by government incentives and technological advancements.

Cost considerations are crucial in energy choices as they directly impact economic stability and consumer affordability. Lower energy costs can enhance competitiveness, reduce household expenses and encourage broader adoption of sustainable practices, ensuring a balance between environmental benefits and economic viability. But what are the different types of renewable energy, and how much do they cost?

Types of Renewable Energy and Their Costs

The renewable energy market has been growing exponentially for decades now, and this maturation means that there are several different options available to those looking to transition from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources. 

Solar Power

Solar power harnesses energy from the sun using photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity. It's a clean, renewable energy source that can be used for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes. The costs of solar power can roughly be divided into set-up and maintenance costs, although there are also incentives for those who are prepared to make that initial investment: 

Installation costs include solar panels, inverters, mounting hardware, and labour. Residential systems typically cost between £4,000 and £8,000, depending on their size and complexity. Local permits and inspections can add a few hundred pounds to the initial costs. 

Adding a battery system for energy storage will benefit you in the long run, but they also increase costs further, with typical systems ranging from £1,000 to £6,000. Solar panels require minimal maintenance, mainly periodic cleaning and inspection. Annual maintenance costs are usually low, around £100 to £200.

While the initial setup costs for solar power can be significant, the long-term savings on energy bills and potential earnings from export tariffs make it a financially attractive and environmentally friendly option for businesses looking to move away from fossil fuels. 

Wind Energy

Wind energy is generated by converting kinetic energy from wind into electrical power using wind turbines. These turbines have blades that spin when wind blows, driving a generator to produce electricity. Wind energy is a clean, renewable source with a low environmental impact. 

Setup costs will include the cost of wind turbines, foundations, electrical infrastructure, and installation. Small residential turbines cost between £3,000 and £5,000 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity. Commercial-scale turbines are more expensive, ranging from £1.2 to £1.6 million per megawatt (MW) of capacity. You’ll also need to conduct site assessments, and obtaining necessary permits can add to upfront costs, typically several thousand pounds.

Maintenance costs should also be factored in. Wind turbines require regular maintenance, including inspections and part replacements. Annual maintenance costs are around 1-2% of the initial investment. Operational costs should also be considered, including land lease payments, insurance, and administrative expenses.

The UK is a global leader in wind energy, particularly offshore wind. As of 2023, wind power contributed approximately 24% of the UK's electricity generation. The country has substantial onshore and offshore wind farms supported by government policies and incentives. While wind energy involves significant initial investment and ongoing maintenance costs, its benefits include stable energy prices, reduced carbon footprint, and contribution to the UK's renewable energy targets.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power generates electricity by harnessing the energy of flowing water. This is typically done through dams or run-of-the-river systems where water flow drives turbines connected to generators. It's a reliable and renewable energy source with a long operational lifespan.

Building hydroelectric plants involves significant costs for dam construction, turbines, generators, and infrastructure. Small-scale hydro projects can cost around £1,000 to £5,000 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity, while large-scale projects can range from £1.5 million to £3 million per megawatt (MW) of capacity. Conducting environmental impact assessments, obtaining permits, and performing feasibility studies can also add substantial costs.

Hydroelectric plants require regular maintenance, including inspections, repairs, and parts replacement. Annual maintenance costs are generally lower than initial investment, approximately 1-2% of the total capital cost. You should also include operations costs, including staffing, insurance, and administrative expenses.

Hydroelectric power contributes a smaller portion to the UK's energy mix than wind and solar, accounting for about 1.5% of the total electricity generation. Most UK hydroelectric plants are located in Scotland and Wales, where suitable conditions exist. 

While hydroelectric power requires significant initial investment and careful site selection, its long-term benefits include reliable, low-cost energy production and a low carbon footprint, making it an attractive option for sustainable energy solutions.


Bioenergy plays a significant role in the UK’s renewable energy mix, contributing about 8-10% of the total electricity generation. The UK has invested in various bioenergy projects, including large-scale biomass power plants, anaerobic digestion facilities, and smaller community-based systems. 

The cost varies depending on the scale and type of bioenergy plant. Small-scale biomass heating systems might cost around £10,000 to £50,000, while larger power plants can range from £2 million to £15 million or more. Establishing a reliable supply chain for biomass feedstock such as wood chips or agricultural residues is crucial and can add to these initial costs.

Regular maintenance is required for equipment and systems, including feedstock handling, combustion, and emissions control. Annual maintenance costs are typically around 2-5% of the initial investment. Operational costs may include feedstock procurement, labour, and operational management. Feedstock costs can vary widely depending on availability and market prices.

Each of these alternatives may involve considerable setup and operational costs, but their benefits include a stable and renewable energy source, waste reduction, and potential revenue from energy sales and government incentives, making them attractive options for sustainable business practices.

Economic Incentives and Government Policies

Various incentives exist for businesses looking to switch to renewable energy solutions. These can broadly be divided into tax incentives, subsidies, and grants. 

Tax Incentives

  • Capital Allowances: Businesses can claim capital allowances on investments in renewable energy technologies, reducing taxable income.

  • VAT Reduction: Reduced VAT rates apply to certain renewable energy installations for domestic use.


  • Feed-in Tariffs (FIT): Payments for generating renewable electricity and exporting surplus to the grid (closed to new applicants but still benefits existing installations).

  • Contracts for Difference (CfD): Guarantees a fixed price for electricity generated from renewable sources, providing price stability and incentivising investment.


  • Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI): This incentive provides payments for generating renewable heat, supporting technologies like biomass boilers and heat pumps.

  • Green Homes Grant: (Ended in 2021) Offered vouchers for homeowners to install renewable energy systems and improve energy efficiency.

The UK government offers significant support through various mechanisms, including tax incentives, subsidies, and grants, to promote the adoption of renewable energy. These measures aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy security and stimulate the green economy.

Although declining in use, fossil fuels still receive government support through tax reliefs and subsidies, such as for decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure. This support generally aims to ensure energy security and manage the transition to low-carbon energy.

Governmental support for renewables focuses more on long-term sustainability and environmental benefits, whereas support for fossil fuels tends to address short-term economic stability and energy security. The shift towards renewables is evident in increasing financial incentives and regulatory frameworks designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and encourage cleaner energy alternatives.

Comparative Analysis of Energy Costs

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the relative costs of renewable energies against fossil fuel equivalents. Bear in mind that the trend is for the cost of renewable energy to come down and for the cost of fossil fuels to increase and that these numbers do not really consider the environmental impact of using fossil fuel in the first place. 

Renewable Energy

Solar Power: £800 - £1,500 per kW for residential installations; £0.04 - £0.06 per kWh for utility-scale.

Wind Power: £1m - £1.6m per MW for onshore; £3m - £4.5m per MW for offshore; £0.03 - £0.06 per kWh.

Hydroelectric Power: £1,000 - £5,000 per kW for small-scale; £1.5m- £3m per MW for large-scale; £0.02 - £0.04 per kWh.

Bioenergy: £1,000 - £5,000 per kW; £0.04 - £0.10 per kWh.

Fossil Fuels

Coal: £1m - £2m per MW; £0.05 - £0.10 per kWh.

Natural Gas: £700,000 - £1.2m per MW; £0.04 - £0.08 per kWh.

Oil: This fuel type has particularly high variability in pricing, typically £0.08 - £0.12 per kWh.

Future Trends in Energy Pricing

Renewable energy costs are expected to decrease due to technological advancements, economies of scale, and supportive policies. Solar and wind energy, in particular, are predicted to see significant cost reductions.

Solar Power

Advances in PV technology, increased efficiency, and lower production costs are projected to reduce solar power costs by 15-25% over the next decade.

Wind Power

Innovations in turbine design, materials, and offshore wind technology are expected to decrease costs by 10-20%, making wind energy increasingly competitive.

Hydroelectric Power

While already cost-effective, further reductions may be limited. However, small-scale hydro and pumped storage innovations could lower costs marginally.


Improvements in feedstock processing, conversion technologies, and waste-to-energy systems will likely reduce costs by 10-15%.

It is also highly likely that further technological advancements and innovations will also reduce the cost of renewable energy over time:

  • Energy Storage: Enhanced battery technologies and grid-scale storage solutions will reduce intermittency issues, lowering overall costs of integrating renewables.

  • Smart Grids: Improved grid management and distribution technologies will optimise energy use and reduce operational costs.

  • Manufacturing Advances: Automation and advanced manufacturing techniques will lower production costs of renewable energy components.

  • Digitalisation: Further integration of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things into energy management will enhance efficiency and predictability, further driving down costs.

While making the switch to renewable energy can look daunting from the outset, there’s no reason for it to actually be so. Costs are continuing to reduce, and new, innovative technologies are still being developed, with the aim of making renewable energy a more attractive option to both business and residential users than fossil fuels. By investing in renewable energy, your business can also start to benefit from reduced energy bills, enhanced energy security, and a positive environmental impact that will benefit all of us.

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