The National Grid has released the latest figures on UK energy, which revealed that in 2019, most of the UK’s energy supply came from renewable sources, rather than fossil fuels.
The data shows that hydro plants, wind farms, solar energy and nuclear energy – in combination with clean power from sub-sea cables – delivered 48.5% of the UK’s energy in 2019. Fossil fuels contributed 43% of the total electricity generated in Britain.
This is a record low for fossil fuel generation according to official data.
National Grid CEO John Pettigrew praised the historic milestone that the UK has achieved, producing a significant chunk of their energy supply from zero-carbon fuels as opposed to fossil fuels.
Pettigrew cited how 30% of electricity was generated by coal in 2009. The global shift towards solar and wind energy and the push for zero-carbon energy in Europe has influenced energy production trends in the UK.
It was not an overnight change, however in May of 2019 the country went without fossil fuel-generated energy for a fortnight. It also generated a record high of solar power for two straight days, which provided about a quarter of the nation’s daily energy consumption.
Wind farms provided 52% of renewable energy, while biomass fuel contributed 32% and solar energy adding 12% to the total amount generated.
Dr. Simon Pickering, an Ecotricity principal ecologist, believes that recognition of the effects of climate change and the present commercial reality are two factors that drove the growth of renewable energy. People are now aware of the harrowing impact of climate change.
It is also cheaper to build wind and solar farms today compared to gas or coal-fired stations. Dr. Pickering also states how some wind farms are now twenty years old and are less prone to breaking down, giving investors confidence to put their money into it.
Shareholders and investors are also pushing companies to avoid venturing into fossil fuels.
The UK is gearing up for more projects to help the country achieve its net-zero emissions target. Part of that plan involves harnessing hydropower by installing a cable under the North Sea, connecting the UK and Norway. It’s one of the six interconnectors already operating or under construction between Britain and other European countries.
The UK has grown its fleet of offshore wind farms, enabling a considerable increase in renewable energy generation compared to onshore wind projects for the first time. The giant offshore turbines contributed 9.8% of the UK’s energy supply – up from only 6.7% back in 2018.
Onshore wind farms, on the other hand, generated 9.2% by year-end – slightly behind offshore but still a notable increase from 2018’s 7.3%.
Wind power reached record-breaking highs, meaning that thousands of households were paid to use the extra energy in off-peak hours – setting their dishwashers, doing the laundry and charging electric vehicles overnight.
The Government has noted the lowered prices for offshore wind energy generation, stating that there is little need to subsidise it.
In 2023, the world’s largest wind farm will begin operation in the North Sea. It features 220-metre high turbines with 100-metre blades and will be located on Dogger Bank. It is anticipated to generate enough power for 4.5 million homes, and is significantly more prominent than the offshore wind project in Walney Island, Cumbria that has 189,000 turbines and covers a 145 square kilometre area, powering 600,000 homes.
Coal-fired power stations have diminished in number over recent years. It has contributed only 1% of the supply for the third-quarter of 2019, which is lower than 2.5% figure from the same period in 2018.
It could be chalked up to the end of the end of power generation at Cottam coal plant, which terminated operations on 30th September. Two other coal plants – Fiddler’s Ferry and Aberthaw B – are set to close in March, reducing the number of coal-fired power stations in the UK to four.
Renewable energy sources now surpass almost every generation system in the region, followed closely by gas-fired power.
The biggest challenge the Government faces today relates to the decarbonisation of heat. Pickering said that if fossil fuel usage for heating could be cut to 20%, then it could be turned over to other sources like methane from food waste, and further usher the nation towards its goal of a net-zero economy.