Analysis: UK renewables generate more electricity than fossil fuels for first time

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UK’s wind farms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity than the combined output from power stations fired by coal, oil and gas in the third quarter of 2019, the Carbon Brief analysis reveals.

During July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1TWh from fossil fuels, the analysis shows.

This is the first-ever quarter where renewables outpaced fossil fuels since the UK’s first public electricity generating station opened in 1882.

‘Nevertheless, a lack of progress in other parts of the economy means the UK remains far off track against its upcoming legally-binding carbon targets, let alone the recently adopted goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050’, Carbon Brief analysis states.

Electricity generation from fossil fuels has halved since 2010, from 288TWh down to 142TWh in the most recent 12-month period.

In the third quarter of 2019, some 39% of UK electricity generation was from coal, oil and gas, including 38% from gas and less than 1% from coal and oil combined.

Another 40% came from renewables, including 20% from wind, 12% from biomass and 6% from solar. Nuclear contributed most of the remainder, generating 19% of the total.

While it is unlikely that renewables will generate more electricity than fossil fuels during the full year of 2019, it is now a question of when this further milestone will be passed.

This summer, National Grid predicted that zero-carbon sources of electricity – wind, nuclear, solar and hydro, but not biomass – would generate more electricity than fossil fuels during 2019. Carbon Brief’s analysis through to the third quarter of the year is in line with this forecast.

Over the past year, the most significant reason for rising renewable generation has been an increase in capacity as new offshore wind farms have opened.

Other contributors to the recent increase in renewable generation include the opening of the 420MW Lynemouth biomass plant in Northumberland last year and the addition of hundreds of megawatts of new onshore wind and solar farms.

Previously, renewables beat fossil fuels in September 2018, the first-ever whole month, and then again in March 2019. This means that there have only ever been four months where renewables outpaced fossil generation, of which three have been this year and two in the last two months.

The broader trend of decline for fossil fuels and an increase for renewables is of far greater significance than the precise figures for any individual quarter, the analysis states.

See the full report here.