Renewables Overtake Other Power Sources in the UK for the First Quarter of 2020

According to a new report from industry analysts EnAppSys renewables accounted for more electricity than any other power source in the UK for the first quarter of 2020. Blustery winds propelled renewables generation to 45% of the entire electricity mix. In addition to this the nationwide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic looks to have helped in part. Analysis of the data indicated that the novel coronavirus caused a reduction in energy demand as Britain went into lockdown in the second half of March which led to renewables reaching parity with carbon-intensive energy sources.

EnAppSys’ director Paul Verrill said:

“This represents a significant milestone for Britain’s power industry. Whilst the ‘stay at home’ measures reduced demand in the last weeks of March, which increased the contribution of renewables, wind farms generated significantly more power than gas-fired plants, which historically have been the dominant fuel type for electricity generation in Great Britain for some years now.”

 “In the shorter term, as coronavirus measures continue, reduced electricity demand will lead to renewables providing a significant contribution to the GB energy mix.” 

Although EnAppSys stated that the trend is likely to be a “temporary high” as weather patterns are expected to normalise, renewables reached a new milestone generating 35.4TWh between January and March of this year amounting to 44.6% of total generation, more than fossil fuels combined. This is a significant increase from the first quarter of 2019 with renewables exceeding levels of the total fossil fuel generation for that period by a margin of 36%. Not only was there more generation from renewables than gas, there was more than gas and coal-fired generation combined for the whole quarter.

The rise in renewables output was largely due to the storms which battered the UK at the beginning of 2020, bringing record breaking winds. This contributed to a consistently high level of wind generation with output from wind farms exceeding 10GW for 63% of the quarter and 5GW for 85% of the period. For example, two wind generation records were set by Storm Ciara with wind turbines generating 56% of the country’s electricity at 2am on Saturday 8 February, the most at any one time, and accounting for 44.26% of power produced across the whole day.

These extreme weather conditions do not tell the whole story, however. At the same time nuclear generated its smallest volume since Q3 in 2008, producing 12.2TWh in the quarter as “the older reactors have been seeing increasing levels of downtime as they move towards the end of their operational life”.

As nuclear plants close levels of nuclear generation are set to continue to decline although this will be offset by an increase in levels of renewable and gas generation as well as any new nuclear builds.

Though the exceptional conditions experienced by the UK during the first quarter of 2020 noticeably increased the use of renewables, recent trends were already showing that renewables are becoming an increasingly commanding player in Britain’s power mix. The continued build of offshore wind farms and the revival in onshore wind should see these levels being brought about more often in the longer term.

The report from EnAppSys coincided with new data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) which showed that solar, wind and other green technologies now provide more than one-third of the world’s power, a new record. According to Irena, in Europe alone, renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) made by corporates, totalled 8GW in 2019, up from 5.5GW in 2018. Over the past decade $3tn has been invested in renewables globally though Irena believes that annual investments must double by 2030 to tackle the climate emergency. However, even with this growth the number of jobs in renewable energy in the UK has fallen by almost a third.

This period has seen a continued decline in prices which is expected to continue in the second quarter as the effect of less economic activity is fully understood.

Paul Verrill said:

“The COVID-19 outbreak had only a slight impact on overall demand in Q1 as the ‘stay at home’ requirements only came into force towards the end of March. We expect a greater impact in Q2 – especially if the lockdown continues until the end of June. Demand for daily electricity generation dropped around 10% towards the end of Q1, as some offices and manufacturing plants shut down and fewer people travelled on public transport, but demand levels in the evening remained relatively stable as people still cooked their dinners and turned on the lights as normal. The reduction in prices in Q1 was in part driven by the growth in renewables, which reduces the demand for commodities such as gas and coal beyond their historic levels – at least within European markets.”

In April SSE Renewables asked for barriers to the deployment of offshore wind to be removed in order that it could become the backbone of the country’s net zero energy system. If this action is not taken it may be impossible to achieve 40GW of offshore wind come the year 2030, putting the net zero 2050 target at risk as well.



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