2017 was a record-breaking year for clean electricity in the UK, with new analysis from Carbon Brief today revealing more power came from low-carbon sources than all fossil fuels combined for the first time since the industrial revolution.
Between 2009 and 2017 the share of nuclear and renewable power doubled to just over 50 per cent, while fossil fuels including gas and coal supplied 47.5 per cent of generation in 2017, down from 75.4 per cent in 2010.
The analysis, which is based on data compiled by Imperial College London, underscores the rapid shift underway in Britain’s power system, from reliance on fossil fuels to the growing dominance of cleaner generating sources.
Just five years ago, coal produced 39 per cent of the UK’s electricity. In contrast, wind power generated more than twice as much electricity as coal last year.
The study is the latest in a string of green accolades for the UK power system, with WWF pointing out yesterday that 13 clean energy records were smashed in 2017 alone, including the first full day since the Industrial Revolution with no coal power, record spikes in solar and offshore wind generation, and record low prices for offshore wind.
However, Carbon Brief’s policy editor Simon Evans pointed out that although the UK has delivered impressive emissions reductions from its power sector, the nation is still not on track to meet its legally binding carbon targets because similarly stringent action is lacking in other areas of the economy.
“Eighty per cent of UK emissions reduction in the past five years has coming from burning less coal,” he said. “That puts into perspective how little progress has been made in other parts of the economy.”
Yesterday the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released new emissions guidance revising down its greenhouse gas projections for 2017-2035.
Taking into account all new and proposed policies, BEIS now expects emissions to total 2,014 megatonnes during the fourth carbon budget from 2023 to 2027 and 1,841 megatonnes during the fifth carbon budget from 2028 to 2032.
However, while this represents a fall on last year’s projections – by 54 megatonnes and 51 megatonnes respectively – it still leaves the UK three per cent short on its legally binding targets for the fourth carbon budget, and five per cent short against the fifth.
Climate Change Minister Claire Perry has insisted this gap can be closed by harnessing clean technology innovation, and, as a last resort, by carrying over emissions surpluses from earlier carbon budgets.
However, critics have accused the government of putting forward a Clean Growth Plan that does not fully comply with the targets set through the legally-binding Climate Change Act.