Renewables Capacity Surpasses Fossil Fuels in the UK for the First Time

The milestone, reached at the end of the September quarter, is notable for the sheer size of the capacity that has been installed, at 41.9 GW, versus 41.2 gw for coal, gas and oil-powered plants.

The capacity of renewable energy has overtaken that of fossil fuels in the UK for the first time. The result is thanks to a record third quarter for the UK tenant sector, with the capacity of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower reaching 41.9 gigawatts, exceeding the 41.2 GW capacity of coal, gas and oil-fired power plants.

A milestone that experts said would have been unthinkable a few years ago, has been achieved so early with the recent boost in renewable capacity additions. These  have,  over the last five years almost tripled while fossil fuels’ have fallen by one-third, as power stations reached the end of their life or became uneconomic in the same time. Coal operators have been affected by the UK’s carbon tax on electricity generation, as well as competition from gas, with nearly one-fourth of the coal capacity dropped just last year. The UK now has only 6 operational coal-fired plants.

Dr Iain Staffell, professor in-charge of the study at the Imperial College said, “Britain’s power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and this quarter saw a major milestone on the journey.” The data presented by the study also compares the recent boost in renewable additions to be greater than the “dash for gas” in the 1990s which saw natural gas consumptions peak in 2001.

Even with the unprecedented growth in the renewable sector, fossil fuels still generated more power over the quarter, at about 40% of electricity generation compared with 28% for renewable sources. However, 57% of all electricity generation was low carbon over the period, produced either by renewables or nuclear power stations.

Wind is the biggest source of renewables with nearly 20 GW of installed capacity distributed between onshore and offshore facilities, in which Britain houses nearly 45% of the global capacity. Solar came in second with 13 GW worth of capacity distributed between nearly a million rooftop solar power systems across the country and ground-mounted installations. Power company Drax, who also funded the research highlighted that Biomass played the important role in helping to the tip the balance from fossil fuels to renewables following the completion of two coal-to-biomass conversions during the third quarter. Biomass at 3.2 GW is the third largest source of renewable energy in the U.K.

However, the report which claims renewables have now surpassed fossil fuels in capacity, is not painting the whole picture according to a few experts. Who believe that the report presented incomplete facts, as it didn’t account for load factors , specially for renewables. For which, energy capacity is represented by peak output which, for instance, with solar, relies on a certain time of day, the temperature, angle, etc which differs wildly from a gas plant or a nuclear station, which needs no such circumstances to match its peak capacity. In other words, a shift to renewables remains a dream for the immediate future, thanks to the vital role gas and coal fired stations play in maintaining base load levels.

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Ayush Verma

Ayush Verma

Ayush is a correspondent at iamrenew.com and writes on renewable energy and sustainability. As an engineering graduate trying to find his niche in the energy journalism segment, he also works as a staff writer for saurenergy.com.

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