A new analysis has revealed that renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels for the entire third quarter in the UK, for the very first time.
A new analysis by Carbon Brief has revealed that renewable energy sources like wind farms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity than the combined output from power stations fired by coal, oil and gas for the entire third quarter in the UK, for the very first time.
During the three months of July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt-hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1 TWh from fossil fuels, the analysis shows.
Becoming the first-ever quarter where renewables outpaced fossil fuels since the UK’s first public electricity generating station opened in 1882, a symbolic milestone in the stunning transformation of the UK’s electricity system over the past decade.
“However, a lack of progress in other parts of the economy means the UK remains far off track against its upcoming legally-binding carbon targets, let alone the recently adopted goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” the analysis reveals.
A Decade of Transformation
At the start of this decade in 2010, the 288 TWh generated from fossil fuels accounted for around three-quarters of the UK total. It was also more than 10 times as much electricity as the 26 TWh that came from renewables.
Since then, electricity generation from renewable sources has more than quadrupled – and demand has fallen – leaving fossil fuels with a shrinking share of the total.
The analysis shows that the electricity generation from fossil fuels has halved since 2010, from 288 TWh down to 142 TWh in the most recent 12-month period. Gas now contributes the vast majority of that shrinking total, as coal plants close down ahead of a planned phaseout in 2025. In the third quarter of 2019, some 39 percent of UK electricity generation was from coal, oil and gas, including 38 percent from gas and less than 1 percent from coal and oil combined.
Another 40 percent came from renewables, including 20 percent from wind, 12 percent from biomass and 6 percent from solar. Nuclear contributed most of the remainder, generating 19 percent of the total.
Over the past year, the most significant reason for a rising renewable generation has been an increase in capacity as new offshore wind farms have opened. The 1,200 MW Hornsea One project was completed in October, becoming the world’s largest offshore wind farm. The 588 MW Beatrice offshore wind farm was completed in Q2 of this year.
These schemes add to the more than 2,100MW of offshore capacity that started operating during 2018. Further capacity is already being built, including the 714MW East Anglia One project that started generating electricity this year and will be completed in 2020.
In total, government contracts for offshore wind will take capacity from nearly 8,500 MW today to around 20,000 MW by the mid-2020s. The government and industry are jointly aiming for at least 30,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, with two further contract auctions already expected.
According to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the rise in renewable output during the first half of 2019 was down to these increases in capacity, with weather conditions not unusual for the time of year.
With the planned phase-out of coal plants and the divestment in renewables, the analysis predicts that the UK is still unlikely to meet its legally binding goal of cutting overall emissions to net-zero by 2050 unless progress in the electricity sector is matched by reductions in other parts of the UK economy, such as heating and transport.
Read the detailed analysis here.