UK Hits Renewable Energy Milestone in 2019

For the first time since the industrial revolution the amount of zero carbon power the UK generated in 2019 outstripped that from fossil fuels for a full 12 months making it the UK’s cleanest year on record.

This historic milestone has been reached at a time when we have come to the mid-point between 1990 and 2050 which is the year the UK has pledged to achieve at least a 100% reduction in emissions based on 1990 levels.

Fossil fuels have been pushed to their lowest share of the UK’s energy mix on record, according to official data with the rise of renewables combined with output from nuclear power plants

The National Grid which is responsible for balancing supply and demand in the UK’s electricity network has revealed figures showing that almost 50% of the country’s energy came from non-polluting sources over the year. Only 43% of the UK’s power came from fossil fuels and 8.5% from biomass and waste. Their data shows that a combination of wind farms, solar and nuclear energy, alongside energy imported by subsea interconnectors accounts for 48.5% of the country’s energy. Figures released by the government show that the UK depended on renewables such as wind and solar for 38.9% of it’s electricity in the third quarter of 2019 which was up by one third for the same period in 2018. Renewable energy has emerged as the UK’s biggest source of power as it moved narrowly ahead of gas-fired power making up 38.8% of the electricity mix.

While unprecedented bushfires rage across Australia the UK has arrived at a landmark moment in its fight against climate change.

National Grid CEO John Pettigrew said:

“As we enter a new decade, this truly is a historic moment and an opportunity to reflect on how much has been achieved. At National Grid, we know we have a critical role in the acceleration towards a cleaner future and are committed to playing our part in delivering a safe and secure energy system that works for all.” 

This milestone was achieved in 2019 as a result of the rapid growth of renewables as well as a sharp decline in the use of coal power which the UK once heavily relied upon. The diminishing number of coal-fired power stations contributed just 1% of the UK’s electricity in the third quarter, down from 2.5% in the same period in 2018. This is partly because the Cottam power plant in Nottinghamshire burned through it’s remaining coal stocks earlier than expected and before its official 30 September finish date. Two further coal plants, Aberthaw B and Fiddler’s Ferry, are due to close in March, leaving only four coal-fired power stations in the UK.

You can see just how much has been accomplished to date when you look at the numbers for previous years. Fossil fuels generated 75.5% of the UK’s energy in 1990. Coal plants at their peak in 2013 generated enough electricity to power 3m homes every year. In 2019, however the UK achieved its longest time period without burning coal of a full 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes. By the summer of 2020 only 3 coal powered plants will remain following the government’s promise to stamp out their use by 2025.

Added to this, the UK’s growing fleet of offshore wind projects generated more electricity than onshore windfarms for the first time. 9.8% of the UK’s electricity was generated by the giant turbines off the coast while onshore windfarms lagged a little behind generating 9.2% of the UK’s electricity in the third quarter, up from 7.3% in the same period in 2018. Wind power reached new highs in December generating almost 45% of the UK’s electricity on one day, and an all-time high of 16GW overnight.

These wind power highs led to thousands of homes being paid to plug in their electric vehicles overnight and set their dishwashers on timers for the early hours of the morning to make use of the extra energy.

The National Grid set out plans in December last year to invest almost £10bn in the UK’s gas and electricity networks over 5 years. Almost £1bn has been designated to allow the transition to Net Zero which includes investments in new equipment and technology to help the electricity system operator (ESO) to operate a Net Zero carbon electricity system by 2025. On top of that a further £85m has been assigned to supporting the decarbonisation of heat within the gas transmission network.

In the last 10 years the decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity system has been the fastest of 25 major economies which has been achieved through a combination of factors including subsidy schemes encouraging renewable energy use and a carbon tax paid by fossil fuel plants.

The UK adopted a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 last year making them the first big developed economy to do so and reflecting the growing concern among the British public over the effects of climate change.

Even with the current clean energy achievement, the UK faces significant challenges if it is going to meet its target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Mark Carney, the outgoing head of the Bank of England said that companies and investors need to step up planning for climate change and warned that many corporate assets were at risk of becoming worthless. The results of a stress test system launched by Mark Carney to determine which companies and industries would be worst hit by the effects of a warming planet, are not due to be published until 2021.

Indeed, several members of the British royal family have made public statements calling for more action on climate change. On New Year’s Eve, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced “the most prestigious environmental prize in history” which will be awarded to 5 people every year over the next decade in order to try and find answers to some of the greatest problems facing the planet. The award will focus on enterprises in energy, air pollution, freshwater levels and biodiversity, to name a few.

Prince William said:

“Either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem solve.”

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