Renewable Energy Has Finally Overtaken Fossil Fuels In The UK

Aerial photo of wind turbines in the fields, Rye, Sussex

The UK has reached a green milestone to be celebrated. Renewable energy there has tripled in the past five years. Now, for the first time in history, it has overtaken the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels.

Graph showing the increasing trend of renewable energy production and the decreasing production of fossil fuel energy production

Source: Imperial College London

A few things are responsible for this achievement. For one, a third of fossil fuel generating capacity has been retired over the last five years. This is because coal operators are now paying a carbon tax on electrical generation as well as stiff competition from natural gas. As a result, coal capacity has fallen by 25 percent and there are only six coal-fed plants left in the UK.

A second instigator, according to research the Imperial College London did for Drax Power, is the increased costs of maintaining the fossil fuel systems. “The cost of balancing the system has doubled in the last four years,” said Dr. Iain Staffel who ran the study. The cost of the energy system rose to a 10-year high of £3.8m. This is because of an 18 percent increase caused by the currency devaluation associated with Brexit.

“Britain’s power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and this quarter saw a major milestone on the journey.” – Staffel

Meanwhile, the capacity from wind, solar, biomass and other renewables have tripled. So as fossil fuels were in decline, renewable energy was on the rise.

As of now, wind farms provide the largest share of capacity with more than 20GW. A whopping 45 percent of all the world’s wind power is now coming from the UK and it’s set to increase.

A turbine at Green Rigg wind farm in Northumberland

A turbine at Green Rigg wind farm in Northumberland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Guardian

Then comes solar power providing over 13GW. There are almost a million rooftop solar power systems across the country contributing to this capacity.

Biomass is next, providing 3.2GW capacity. Very soon an additional two coal power plants will have completed their conversions to biomass power plants, which will add an additional 1GW total capacity to the biomass factor.

So, 57 percent of electrical generation was low-carbon if you add in nuclear power. Andy Koss the CEO of Drax Power said:

“More renewables are crucial for reducing carbon emissions and helping us to meet our climate targets – but flexible, lower carbon generation, is also clearly vital for controlling the costs of maintaining a stable, low-carbon power system.”

As long as the UK continues on its way to meeting the 2050 goal with such a rush to renewables, they will surely even exceed their goals. This is already an achievement that was unthinkable a few years back so anything is possible. Let’s hope for the best!