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UK sees greenest year to date with renewables record

Posted by: James Turner
08/01/2020
Industry News

UK sees greenest year to date with renewables record

Energy produced by the UK’s renewable sector outpaced fossil fuel plants on a record 137 days in 2019 to help the country’s energy system record its greenest year to date. Renewable energy is sourced from wind, solar, hydro and biomass projects.

The figures from Carbon Brief are in contrast to 107 days in 2018, an increase of 28%. Meanwhile, there were 58 days in 2017, 16 days in 2016, and 12 days in 2015.

The report reveals that renewable energy was the UK's largest electricity source in March, August, September and December 2019.

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Wind farms provide the highest percentage (52%) of renewable energy, with new offshore wind farms adding to the creation of renewable energy in recent years. Biomass fuel (32%) and solar panels (12%) also make a significant contribution to renewable energy generation.

The rise of renewables helped drive generation from coal and gas plants down by 6% from the year before, and 50% lower from the start of the decade. Meanwhile, the number of coal-free days has accelerated from the first 24-hour period in 2017 to 21 days in 2018 and 83 days last year.

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The report’s findings come after National Grid confirmed that “low-carbon” electricity – including energy from renewables and nuclear plants – made up more than half the UK’s energy mix for the first time last year.

Two key factors have driven the growth in renewable energy sources: awareness of climate change and economics.

Dr Simon Pickering, principal ecologist at green energy company Ecotricity, said: “There has been a general recognition, an emotional engagement with climate change. People realise this is about what will happen to their children.

“There is also the commercial reality. The price of onshore wind and solar has dropped and wind farms are cheaper to build than a gas or coal-fired power station. Wind farms have been around for 20 years; we know the technology works and isn’t going to break down – that gives people confidence to invest.”

Offshore wind farms have been the key driver in the UK’s push for renewables. Prices for electricity generated by offshore wind are now so low that the Government says they no longer need to be subsidised. 

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The world’s largest windfarm will start operating in 2023 in the North Sea. Located on Dogger Bank, the farm will feature turbines that reach 220m in height and have blades 100m long. Collectively, these will generate enough electricity to power 4.5 million homes. This will surpass the current largest offshore wind farm, off Walney Island in Cumbria, which covers an area of 145km2, has 189 turbines and powers 600,000 homes.

Although the UK’s low-carbon electricity production doubled over the last 10 years and despite the 2019 record, growth slowed sharply in the last year of the decade because of a string of outages at the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants. Carbon Brief warned this could slow progress in the years ahead.

Simon Evans, the author of Carbon Brief’s report, said: “Our analysis shows that rapid gains in decarbonising the power sector can’t be taken for granted and won’t just continue to magically happen forever.”

Evans also called on the government to take the necessary action to meet their renewable targets: “The government’s seemingly ambitious target to roll out 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 won’t happen without policies to back it up,” he said.

“And it may not be enough on its own to meet UK climate goals, without contributions from onshore wind, solar or further new nuclear.”

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Audrey Gallacher, Energy UK’s interim chief executive, said the report was a “stark reminder” that the energy industry must go “much further and faster” to help meet the UK’s climate target.

Britain has set a legally binding target to create a carbon-neutral economy by cutting emissions to net zero by 2050. This means the UK must only emit as much carbon as it is able to capture and store.

The target will require a huge increase in low-carbon generation to help meet the UK’s rising need for clean electricity for transport and heating. 

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However, the government’s delayed energy white paper is yet to emerge.

Gallacher said: “The amount of low-carbon power produced has doubled over the last decade but we need to go above and beyond that to keep pace with our climate change targets, especially with overall demand set to increase, rather than falling as it has done in recent years.

“This underlines the urgency of increasing all forms of low-carbon generation – and why we need to see [the government’s] energy white paper as soon as possible, with action and policies that can enable the required investment and innovation to make this happen.” Full stories here & here.

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