Renewable power sent yet more UK records tumbling in 2019

  • Jul 30, 2020
  • Business Green

Yet more clean power records were sent tumbling last year, with the latest official statistics released today showing sources of renewable electricity for the first time ever provided more than a third of the UK's electricity in 2019.

Renewables such as wind, solar and biomass provided 37.1 per cent of UK electricity during the 2019 calendar year, up from 33.1 per cent in 2018, according to the annual Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) published by the government today.

The growth in wind capacity made up the bulk of growing influence of renewables on the UK power grid, last year accounting for a fifth - 20 per cent - of the mix alone. Offshore and onshore wind farms both made up 10 per cent of UK power generation each.

Taken together, renewables and nuclear accounted for 54.4 per cent of UK power generation last year, marking yet another record share for low carbon electricity, rising from in 2018. Since 2004, renewables' share of UK power has risen tenfold.

Other clean power technologies also saw slight increases in capacity and generation last year. Solar PV generation grew 1.4 per cent to a record 12.9TWh, boosted by an increase in sunlight hours and a 0.3GW rise in capacity. Hydro generation also increased by nine per cent, while bioenergy and waste-to-energy generation together rose 9.2 per cent last year.

And, while wave and tidal power generation still represent only a tiny fraction of the UK's electricity share, generation from these technologies together rose significantly by 14GWh last year, the data shows.

Elsewhere, the statistics also reveal that renewable heat generation increased last year by 2.4 per cent, with just under 60 per cent of that increase coming from wood, with the remainder from biomass plants and heat pumps.

Melanie Onn, deputy chief executive of trade body RenewableUK, hailed the UK's renewable power sector as a "terrific success story we can all be proud of".

"Today's figures confirm just how far we've come in the revolution in power generation; in 2010 less than seven per cent of our electricity came from renewables - now it's 37 per cent," she said.

"But we know that to tackle the existential threat of climate change, we need to decarbonise not just electricity, but also heating and transport, where progress has been glacial," she added. "We need innovative power sources like floating wind, wave and tidal power, renewable hydrogen and a massive expansion in battery storage to get us to net zero emissions as fast as possible - so there's no time to rest on our laurels."

The trend towards renewables showed no signs of slowing during the first three months of 2020, either, according to separate provisional energy data released today for January to March 2020.

Total renewable power generation in the first quarter of this year increased by a record 30 per cent compared to same period in 2018, which saw renewables overall share of the UK power mix hit 47 per cent, which BEIS said was largely due to increased capacity and high load factors for wind power.

Offshore wind generation rose 53 per cent in quarter one this year compared to the same period in 2018, while onshore wind rose 29 per cent. Solar, meanwhile, fell 11 per cent.

Meanwhile, the impact of renewables' onward march on the UK grid is also having a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, according to separate data published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today.

While energy supply made up 23 per cent of the greenhouse gases within the UK's borders in 2018, it delivered a seven per cent cut in emissions from the previous year, largely due to the decreasing use of coal power.

Transport emissions - which accounts of the UK's largest share of greenhouse gases - fell by just one per cent, on the other hand.

Emissions from business dropped three per cent, and agriculture emissions fell one per cent, but emissions from the residential sector ticked up four per cent, today's statistics show.

Overall, UK territorial greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 fell two per cent from the previous year, marking a 43 per cent reduction since 1990, according to the data.

Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive of green energy and transport trade association the REA, said that while the growth in renewables was a UK sucess story "the slow and modest growth of decarbonising heat and transport also needs to be highlighted".

"The UK's success in power decarbonisation is not yet being replicated in these hard to treat sectors," she said. "The UK still has legally binding targets to reach 15 per cent renewable energy by this year. These figures for 2019 demonstrate that power is doing all the heavy lifting in getting us towards that target. Urgent and ambitious policy now needs to be brought in to address this slow progress in heat and transport, this needs to be done now if we are to remain on track to meet our 2050 net zero targets."

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