The UK power sector is on track to reach a “landmark tipping point,” according to National Grid, the country’s national grid operator, as it nears the point where non-fossil fuel sources generate more electricity than traditional fossil fuel-powered generation.
“The incredible progress that Britain has made in the past 10 years means we can now say 2019 will be the year net zero power beats fossil fuel-fired generation for the first time,” said National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew, speaking in late June. Specifically, according to National Grid, 47.9% of electricity across the first five months of 2019 came from wind, solar, hydro, storage, and nuclear, while fossil fuels only supplied 46.6%.
“Having reached this landmark tipping point, the question is what are we doing today to get to net-zero as quickly as possible?” Pettigrew asked.
“We take our responsibility to run the UK’s electricity and gas energy systems, in accordance with our licence obligations, extremely seriously. We seek to maintain the integrity of these systems while keeping energy costs down for UK homes and businesses. But as we look to the future we are proud to champion world-leading feats of British engineering as we move to a net-zero power grid.
“The interconnectors that connect our electricity grid into Norway’s hydropower are part of this story, as is having the know-how to bring renewable generation onstream to complement conventional sources of generating power,” Pettigrew Added. “This will help accelerate our progress towards delivering cleaner, greener energy for Britain’s homes, our travel and our work as quickly as possible.”
Interestingly, however, National Grid’s proclamation came a week after Solarcentury, the global integrated solar power company headquartered in the UK, claimed that the UK is “significantly underestimating” the role of solar on its path to net-zero. Specifically, according to a new analysis carried out by Energy Watch Group and LUT University in collaboration with Solarcentury, solar could provide at least 20% of the UK’s electricity and create 200,000 jobs.
Currently, the UK’s solar sector consists of 900 solar farms and 900,000 rooftop solar installations amounting to 13 gigawatts (GW) and providing only 4% of the country’s electricity. According to the new analysis, however, the UK could increase this by more than six times to a total of 80 GW — the equivalent of meeting 20% of the UK’s electricity demand.
“As a country, we are proving that solar works, and can be deployed both at scale and speed,” said Frans van den Heuvel, Chief Executive of Solarcentury.
“Social demand to act on climate chaos and switch to renewables is at an all-time high, with three-quarters of UK residents now believing that climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity today*. With demand for electricity set to rise as we shift to an electric-based system, the good news is that we have everything we need to significantly increase the UK’s solar capacity, from the momentum, ambition and skills, to the technology, investment and affordability. The one missing piece of the puzzle is political will.” – van den Heuvel
“Our research shows that the UK is significantly underestimating the role of solar power, as an immediate low-cost clean energy source,” added Professor Christian Breyer of LUT University of Technology in Finland.
“By 2030, it is quite possible for the UK to get 20% of its electricity from solar; meaning rather than stay stagnant on deployment it can multiply its current capacity by at least six times to 80GW. This move to a zero-carbon economy is more than affordable; it is one of the most cost-effective means for the UK to generate its electricity over the next decade.
“The falling cost of solar has been overlooked by the UK Government, with the European Technology and Innovation Platform for PV (ETIP PV) recently confirming an 80% cost drop in the last decade, and a further 30% drop in the coming years. Across Europe, we expect the solar industry to reach at least 1.5 million jobs in the next decade. That economic impact must be included in energy planning, with 200,000 much-needed jobs created in the UK alone.” – Breyer