Both Covid-19 and the measures employed to combat the disease by government are having widespread effects on rural economies. This is unsurprising, as the success of households, community projects and businesses within rural communities are entwined, and all impacted considerably by the spread of this disease and the social distancing restrictions devised to limit its development.
Nevertheless, historic challenges posed to rural economies, such as Foot and Mouth Disease and the most recent financial recession, exhibit their resilience and malleability. Research into the ability of rural economies to rally from such trials is often attributed to those features which make these communities unique, such as a more widely spread population and a tradition of home working. It is these features which will assist with the resilience to and recovery of rural areas from COVID-19, and farms, local businesses and communities can all play a role in supporting each other through this testing period.
In light of this, rural communities will play an important role in both kick-starting and maintaining a recovery from the present economic downturn, particularly if they are adequately buoyed by an equitable and cross-sectoral response package from government. This is supported by significant commentary indicating that this crisis will accelerate a move away from globalisation toward more locally sourced production, with a reduction in overseas travel and global consumption potentially on the cards.
This opportunity for growth afforded to rural communities is evident within the renewables sector. As recently reported in the Financial Times, though within the setting of diminishing global energy demand likely to reduce annual carbon emissions by as much as 8%, there is mounting evidence to support the suggestion that “peak oil” has now been reached. If true, this will prove a significant boon to meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and offers the chance for renewables to take centre stage in all future development proposals.
This is substantiated by a recent review of the global energy sector published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) which endorses electricity as the only source of energy likely to experience an upsurge in 2020. Though supply chain disruptions will be unavoidable globally, this report indicates that an increase in photovoltaics, wind and hydropower will all contribute toward growth in electricity generation by 5% over the course of this year.
This should provide confidence to landowners, developers and investors alike toward the commercial viability of new renewables projects throughout the UK, which is already being demonstrated in practice by developers actively seeking new wind and photovoltaic development sites.