The UK power generation industry is headed for its greenest year yet as more capacity for renewables is added and coal plants are needed less often.
The carbon intensity — a measure of the environmental impact of generating electricity — has dropped 60% in the UK in the six years to 2019 and is on track to reach another low this year, according to data from National Grid Plc.
The figures show the success of government efforts to pare back emissions and push coal plants off the grid, part of a broader plan to zero out net fossil-fuel pollution by the middle of the century. With electricity demand set to double by 2050, lawmakers need to make sure there’s enough clean sources of power to supply the grid as environmental rules tighten.
UK wind generation hit a new record last week, a benchmark that’ll be bested again as the nation aims to triple its offshore wind capacity in the next nine years. In 2019, renewables generated 37% of the country’s electricity.
For the first time ever, more than half of UK electricity came from wind on Dec. 26 as Storm Bella blew through the country, according to data from Drax Plc’s Electric Insights.
🌬 For the first time ever yesterday, amid #StormBella, more than half of Great Britain’s #electricity was generated by the #wind
☔️ 5️⃣0️⃣.6️⃣7️⃣% of power was produced by wind turbines
⚡️ Previous record of 50% set on 21 August
👉🏾 https://t.co/otBFE9zO46 (👀 by @I__like__eggs) pic.twitter.com/yEU4mdRf50
— Drax (@DraxGroup) December 27, 2020
The surge in renewable power has happened at the same time that fossil fuels, coal in particular, have disappeared from the energy mix. This year saw the longest period without coal in power since the Industrial Revolution. The fuel will be totally off the power system by 2025 at the latest.
Carbon intensity is usually higher in winter when more generation from gas and nuclear is needed to meet heating demand. On Nov. 26 renewables were just 7% of total generation, according to analysis by Hartree Solutions.
“The reality is that the UK network is some years away from being able to provide economic solutions for 24/7 low carbon generation,” Hartree Partners said in a report. “Material carbon reductions from a change of fuel type or technology are not on the immediate horizon in the same way we have experienced over the last five years.”
Britain still gets about 40% of its power from gas. Carbon capture technology will need to be deployed at to make the cleanest fossil fuel carbon neutral.