#1 cleantech news, reviews, & analysis site in the world. Subscribe today. The future is now.

Clean Power

Published on May 17th, 2016 | by Joshua S Hill


Wind Outperforms Coal In UK For First Time Ever

May 17th, 2016 by  

New figures released this week in the UK show wind generated more electricity than coal for the first time ever.

According to statistics released by the UK’s electricity and gas utility National Grid, and published by independent data analysts EnAppSys, wind generated 2,290 gigawatt hours (GWh) in the UK in April, while coal only generated 1,755 GWh.

“We’ve reached a historic point where wind energy is outperforming coal,” said RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith. “April was the first month in the UK’s history in which wind provided more of our power than coal. The Government has said that in future our electricity needs to come from nuclear, gas and renewables and the fact that wind has now leapfrogged coal shows that we are delivering on this ambition.”

The news comes only days after the amount of electricity generated from coal in the UK fell to zero several times earlier this month — a low that some experts are suggesting hasn’t happened since the first coal-fired generator opened in London in 1882! Specifically, according to data from BM Reports, coal-fired electricity fell to zero late on Monday the 9th of May through to the early hours of Tuesday morning, and then again for more than 12 hours later that week.

That same week was when solar generated more electricity than coal as well, according to Carbon Brief. Though. the “milestone is largely symbolic,” given that solar has regularly started exceeding coal during the middle of the day, it was yet another nail in coal’s coffin.

Tags: , ,

About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

  • heinbloed
  • heinbloed
  • John Norris

    UK Big Picture 2008-2016: less coal, less gas, more renewables, more imports. Also slightly less consumption. See attached (via EnAppSys).

    • Richard Foster

      Not slightly less consumption – nearly 10% less! In 8 years. That’s pretty good.

      That’s a really cool graph and shows how much coal has dropped. I reckon it’ll be gone well before 2025 (scheduled phase out date)

  • egriff5514

    3 UK coal plants have recently closed, so perhaps this marks a new normal with a reduced pool of coal plants?
    Note that there is still the equivalent of 1.5 times current wind power in the pipeline, and there have been many days recently when wind has been just over the coal figure, so I’d expect by 2020 a lot more days when wind substitutes for coal and coal goes completely…
    But! the challenge for the UK is the winter weekday evening peak, especially on days with high pressure. Demand can go to 53GW on those evenings, with almost no wind. It may only happen 2 or three times a winter for a couple of days, but it is a challenge.
    For a summer day (with some wind and good solar dropping demand), weekday mid day demand is 32GW or maybe less – as opposed to 50GW in winter. It is the seasonal range I think is UK challenge…

    • Richard Foster

      In addition to the recent closures (I think it’s actually only 2 – Ferrybridge and Longannet, Eggborough was given a stay until March 2017, as was Fiddler’s Ferry), there have been some scheduled maintenance on other plants, with NG taking up some of the slack (NG output has been up a bit as well, but not as much as wind).

      As for peak winter demand – that’s now something where a problem is approaching – the UK has about 60GW of total (non-“intermittent”) generation, so currently we’re ok. But, we are actually reaching the point where storage might well be coming – just to cover that peak 3hrs or whatever for when there’s a high pressure system as you say. The National Grid boss was talking about possible grid storage and demand response in something I saw towards the end of last year.

      Although hopefully the vastly increased amount of offshore wind being installed will offset the need for some of this.

      Although if you read the Torygraph, you’d think the world was about to fall down, as they count 0GW from wind and 0GW from solar. Mind you, their “energy” correspondents are also climate change deniers…

      • egriff5514

        The Torygraph is certainly anti renewable -or should I say was? Have you noticed a ramp down since they went to a new format? (and where did all the rabid climate change denier commenters go, now it does not do comments?)
        As to peak demand, demand response – smart demand response – is really taking off and I think will be a major player for the 3 GW or so extra for biggest evening peak increase over daytime…
        I still wonder where the 50GW or so regularly needed in winter daytime will come from during high pressure.
        Interconnectors possibly: these appear to be a new govt favourite and (unreported) there are many new proposals for these… some counts put these at potentially 10GW… but there is this persistent ‘anti’ argument that no wind in UK can also be no wind in Denmark, Germany etc.
        I’d like to nail that possibility down (and refute it, if possible)…

        • Richard Foster

          Well we aren’t going to generate 50GW with RE in the next 5 years or so, but it will happy eventually. Winter high pressure, although cold, usually means sunny, so Solar PV will be part of the eventual solution.

          It’s also unlikely to be high pressure covering the whole of the UK and even light winds offshore will eventually add a big chunk.

          Storage will be used, as will biomass and I suspect NG and Nuclear will be with us for some time.

          However, we don’t need to solve all the problems now – what we need is to get to the point where RE is regularly providing 30,40,50,60% of our energy needs, then we can start thinking about that last 10-20% and we’ve got 35-40years to solve that.

          • egriff5514

            “unlikely to be high pressure covering the whole of the UK2
            I agree and even more unlikely that the whole continent (and Norway’s water!) would be affected.
            but time after time I see this cited as a critical flaw by anti renewable brigade…
            where can we get the figures to nail this one?

        • JamesWimberley

          Norway could run out of water, too.

          • egriff5514

            Unlikely but… it seems Tasmania’s problems recently may have in part been due to using hydro to generate power for export without keeping enough reserve in the dams…

        • Bristolboy

          I think a lot of the crazy commenters have moved to other sites, including The Guardian.

      • Karl the brewer

        Interesting article which maybe of particular interest to yourself and egriff from the ecologist about demand reduction – http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2987692/to_keep_the_lights_on_pay_people_to_use_less_electricity.html

        • Richard Foster

          Thanks an interesting article.

        • egriff5514

          Thanks… that covers the domestic front, where I was more thinking of large/industrial users (e.g. aircon, refrigeration, water pumping).
          Though we did all get handed out CFL bulbs in the past which were low quality – which might make people sceptical if we hand out the better LEDs…
          Also, the article states govt paying diesel generation for cover… I don’t think any primary generation in UK is from diesel, only grid outages…

      • FruityPimpernel

        The UK has been slow to consider storage and demand management but recent comment from the National Grid and the likes of the UK National Infrastructure Commission suggest this is a becoming a priority for the UK grid to invest in so hopefully the next couple of years will see this all move beyond trials and white papers to some actual deployment at scale.

        • Karl the brewer

          Bristolboy who posts here and who seems to have industry info posted that there is a shed load of utility storage on the books in the UK. Can’t seem to find the article though.

          • Bristolboy

            Bit late to the party but indeed there is a shed load to be added. At a recent industry event (All Energy 2016) it was said connection requests had been made for over 9GW of storage.

        • Bristolboy

          This will start with the upcoming National Grid auction for 200MW of frequency response – most (if not all) expected to be awarded to energy storage.

    • Karl the brewer

      Energy efficiency and demand reduction are key….

  • MD

    At what price to the taxpayer?

    • nakedChimp

      Cheaper than Hinkley Point C :-p

      • eveee

        Maybe cheaper than coal, too if this keeps up.

      • Calamity_Jean

        It would be hard to be more expensive.

    • Bristolboy

      Legacy projects continue to receive subsidy for sure, but the first no subsidy onshore wind projects are now starting to come through in both Spain and Portugal.

  • eveee

    Coal capacity factor must be falling. That will accelerate the switch to renewables.

    • Karl the brewer

      You would think so wouldn’t you. This may just be a prelude to the fracking carnage that the Tory government are hell bent on unleashing.

      • FruityPimpernel

        The Tories, like the previous administrations before them have been making a dog’s dinner of UK energy policy for decades now.

        The way the current administration has slammed on the brakes for renewables (solar and onshore wind) and is backing the pantomime horse of Hinckley Point is exasperating, however the fact remains that the UK will need natural gas for a few years yet – for heat, fertiliser feedstocks etc just as much as for power in the windless, sunless days of winter for years to come.

        So Karl which is better in your view – locally extracted gas from under Lancashire for direct injection into the grid (and direct injection of revenues into the exchequer) or higher CO2 imported LNG from ISIL-sponsoring Qatar and/or higher CO2 imported US LNG (and in the process plenty of revenues exported away from our hospitals and schools).

        The latter two are the current reality making up for the declining contribution of North Sea Gas.

        • Karl the brewer

          Neither 😉

          The elephant in the room in the UK is space heating and water which of course are NG. Fracking blows our carbon budget and ties us into FF for another however many years but doesn’t address the problem directly. At some point someone in UK gov has to deal with this and get us off heating using FF, be it with heat pumps, better insulation etc but fracking just kicks the proverbial can down the road.

          Please, someone in UK gov make a decision for gods sake!

          P.s appreciate your well reasoned argument.

        • Bristolboy

          The current UK government has slammed on the brakes for onshore wind and support subsidies, but planning permission is still possible for onshore wind in the devolved nations and solar pretty much everywhere. There are projects coming through which will be built without subsidy.

  • super390

    People don’t know this is happening. They still believe all the old lies about renewables. The presidential election will be between someone who says “renewables someday” and one who says “renewables never, loser!”

    • Karl the brewer

      In light of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary I have the perfect quote for you – “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

    • Bob_Wallace

      I copied some stuff off one of the candidate’s clean energy and climate change page. Perhaps you should add a third choice to your list, you seem to have overlooked her….

      Hillary will:

      Create good-paying jobs by making the United States the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.

      Set national goals to have 500 million solar panels installed; generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America; cut energy waste in homes, schools, and hospitals by a third; and reduce American oil consumption by a third.

      Lead the world in the fight against climate change by bringing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below what they were in 2005 within the next decade—and keep going.

      and –

      That’s why on day one, Hillary will set bold, national goals that will be achieved within ten years of her taking office:

      Generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America, with half a billion solar panels installed by the end of Hillary’s first term.

      Cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals and offices by a third and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.

      Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships and trucks.

      • egriff5514

        “within ten years of her taking office”
        the cynic in me says that means sometime after the end of her second term…

        • Bob_Wallace

          Yes. She intends to put a process in motion, one that will continue well past her first term.

          In other words, she intends to make long term changes. Getting a massive amount of solar installed would really help us get off fossil fuels. And that should be a permanent change.

          I like that she’s thought out how to get some jobs done without the cooperation of Congress. Republicans stand a good chance of holding on to the House in November.

          Obama has been very skilled at getting things done ‘in spite of Congress’. I hope his new methane regs make it through the judicial system soon and force reduction of gas leaks to get underway.

          • Frank

            Here here. IIRC, you detailed in a previous post how little this would actually cost.

      • JamesWimberley

        Decent policies, apart from the “energy superpower” nonsense. “Leading the world in the fight against climate change” is also absurd, but harmless. HRC’s stated policies will never catch up with Germany or Uruguay, let alone Denmark or Costa Rica. I suppose “let’s at least join in” does not set the pulse of American voters racing.

    • Mitch_Ocean

      I have a different view of Clinton–she knows where we need to go but also knows that you can’t get too far ahead of the people. This was Lincoln’s great insight. To turn the system we need to start turning the people–that is where the Sanders generation can help.

Back to Top ↑