Low-carbon energy makes majority of UK electricity for first time

Wednesday 31st July 2019 05:41 EDT

Official data reveals low-carbon energy was used to generate more than half of the electricity used in the UK for the first time last year. Government's annual review of energy statistics revealed a rapid rise in renewable energy, combined with low-carbon electricity from nuclear reactors made up almost 53 per cent of generation in 2018.

Renewable energy sources set a new record by meeting a third of the UK's power generation last year after the UK's capacity to generate power from the sun, wind, water and waste grew by 10 per cent. The UK's use of coal fell by a quarter to a record low of just 5 per cent, the report said. The "Energy Bible" confirms a string of record green energy records broken in recent years, as the UK undertakes more renewable energy projects and shuts down old, polluting coal plants.

Very hot weather can have a negative impact on renewable energy generation because high pressure weather systems can suppress wind speeds, and solar panels produce less electricity if temperatures climb too high. The rise of renewables has edged out coal and gas plants which together made up less than 45 per cent of the country's electricity last year.

Gas generation fell to 39.5 per cent of the generation mix last year, from 40.4 per cent in 2017. Coal generation continued to decline, falling to 5.1 per cent last year after Eggborough coal plant shut and Drax converted one of its units to burn biomass instead. Now, since SSE announced plans to shut its last coal plant at Fiddler's Ferry near Warrington, Cheshire in March 2020, only five coal plants will be left running by the end of the coming winter.

Deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, Emma Pinchbeck said the record-breaking figures "clearly show that investment in renewables and the government's championing of offshore wind is delivering rapid change to our energy system." She said, "As well as helping keep prices down for consumers and boosting the competitiveness of our businesses, renewables are a huge economic opportunity, bringing employment and investment to all parts of the UK."

The government pushed behind the offshore wind sector earlier this year by promising developers the chance to compete for a share of £557mn of state subsidies in exchange for industry investment of £250mn over the next 11 years. The deal could help offshore wind grow to 30 per cent of the UK's electricity by 2030 as the UK works towards a 2050 target to cut emissions from the economy to net zero. However, ministers have refused to lift a block on support for new onshore wind farms, which are unable to compete for subsidies despite being one of the cheapest forms of electricity.

“To achieve its net zero ambitions, the new government needs to go further and faster - and the first steps should be removing the barriers to onshore wind which is our cheapest source of power, and building on our successes in innovative technologies like tidal energy and floating wind where the UK can be a world leader,” Pinchbeck said.

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