New analysis of figures from Carbon Brief has shown that the UK generated more electricity from wind than it did from coal during 2016, a first for the UK.
The UK-based Carbon Brief analyzed a range of sources in advance of official estimates set to be published by the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the 30th of March. According to Carbon Brief, coal electricity generation only contributed 9.2% of the UK’s electricity during 2016 — its lowest output levels since 1935, compared to 11.5% from wind electricity generation.
Parallel to this, Carbon Brief conclude that the UK’s CO2 emissions from power generation fell to around 20% in 2016, due in part to coal’s being replaced by lower-emissions gas electricity generation.
UK Annual Electricity Generation 2009-2016
According to Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans, “The past 12 months have seen a year of firsts for the UK’s electricity system.”
At the broadest level, the UK grid is changing as centralised power stations are joined by thousands of smaller sites, particularly renewables, as part of efforts to decarbonise electricity supplies.
Other important factors include falling electricity demand, rising imports from continental Europe and changes in the relative price of coal and gas on wholesale energy markets. The UK’s top-up carbon tax, the carbon price floor, also doubled in April 2015.
As for coal, Evans explains that the “reduction in coal generation during 2016 was a continuation of several years’ decline, such that output is now down nearly 80% since a 2012 peak.”
UK Annual Electricity Generation 1920-2016
Unsurprisingly, the news has been greeted with excitement within the UK renewable energy industry.
“This is a historic and exciting change to our power infrastructure,” said Emma Pinchbeck, Executive Director of RenewableUK, the country’s wind energy trade body. “As old-fashioned coal is phased out, modern technologies like wind are stepping up to make sure consumers have reliable energy without the damaging health impacts of coal pollution — as well as delivering for the UK economy.”
Further, while 2016 was a big year for the UK, the holiday season similarly represented a continuation of this trend.
“Over the festive season, renewables were star performers,” Pinchbeck continued. “On Christmas Day wind generated 32% of the UK’s power — more than any other energy source. Renewables are also helping traditional British companies find new opportunities as times change, with Siemens opening a massive factory in Hull, and Harland and Wolff in Belfast supplying steel foundations to the offshore wind industry.”
In the third quarter, renewables contributed 25% of the UK’s total electricity generation, according to government figures released in late-December (with nuclear also contributing 25%). Meanwhile, as Pinchbeck noted, Britain’s wind industry is building at home, with companies seeking to manufacture and construct more in the country.
In addition, the rise of renewables and the decline of fossil fuels is being paralleled by investment figures.
“Globally, energy is shifting to renewables,” added Pinchbeck. “Investors have seen the way the wind’s blowing, with more than $300bn invested in clean energy last year and private companies divesting away from fossil fuels. The Government should make a New Year’s resolution to back renewables in its forthcoming Industrial Strategy, so that the UK can make the most of the exciting changes ahead.”
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