Renewables Push Low Carbon Sources to Almost 55 Per Cent of UK Power Mix

World | Renewable Energy

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

The UK’s renewables sector continued to perform strongly during the third quarter of last year, according to new official data that shows how increased capacity and availability helped push its share of the electricity mix to 30 per cent.

The performance marks a 4.6 percentage point increase on the same period in 2016 and reprents a record for the third quarter of the year, buoyed in part by a 2.2 per cent drop in generation across the UK’s electricity sector as a whole.

The increase in power from renewables also helped push low carbon electricity’s share of the electricity mix – including nuclear power – to a third quarter record high of 54.4 per cent, up from 50.2 per cent during the same period in 2016.

Less favourable weather conditions, however, saw renewables’ share of overall power generation during the quarter fall slightly from the record breaking 30.7 per cent share achieved in the second quarter of 2017.

Nevertheless, wind power performed particularly strongly, making up the bulk of renewables’ success during the third quarter, with onshore wind accounting for 7.5 per cent of overall power generation and offshore turbines contributing 5.3 per cent.

Large increases in wind power capacity in the year to the end of the third quarter of 2017 – particularly for onshore wind – “more than outweighed reduced wind speeds during the quarter”, the government report stated.

Generation from solar PV, meanwhile, accounted for around five per cent of overall generation during the quarter ahead of hydro power on less than two per cent.

Luke Clark, head of external affairs at trade body RenewableUK, welcomed the latest figures.

“Renewables are consistently generating 30 per cent of the UK’s electricity and are now a mainstay of the UK’s power sector,” he said. “Wind is playing a key role in this, with onshore wind generation increasing by 20 per cent compared to the same period last year, and offshore wind up 10 per cent.”

Despite the “great year” for onshore wind, though, he added the current effective ban on onshore wind projects from taking part in competitive auctions for price support contracts means “we’re missing out on the cheapest new power capacity”.

Overall renewable electricity generation was 22.3TWh in the third quarter of 2018, an increase of 15 per cent on the 19.2TWh recorded in the same period of 2016.

The highest year-on-year increase across all renewables technologies came courtesy of bioenergy’s 23 per cent rise in generation to 7.6TWh in the third quarter of last year. The jump in generation was due to increased availability at the Drax biomass power station following outages the previous year, the report explained.

Renewables’ ongoing success in the UK will bolster the government’s drive towards meeting statutory climate change targets, for which it is currently on track to comfortably meet the second carbon budget which runs to 2017.

The new data follows the latest greenhouse gas estimates this week, which showed the UK’s overall emissions fell five per cent in 2016 compared to the previous year, largely due to the significant and ongoing drop off in coal fired power as renewables continued to take on a greater share of electricity generation.

In related news, annual electricity figures for the US were also published this week, showing that for the fourth year in a row renewable power provided more new generating capacity than natural gas.

The latest Federal Energy Regulatory Commission figures for 2017 show that renewable sources accounted for almost half of the near 25GW of new US capacity added, while new natural gas accounted for under 49 per cent.

It means renewables now account for more than 20 per cent of overall US generating capacity, with utility scale solar making up more than 30GW alone, delivering an eight-fold increase in capacity over the past five years.

Moreover, despite President Trump’s vocal support for the US coal industry, the figures show no new coal capacity was added across the entire country in 2017 – a fact highlighted by Ken Bossong, chief executive of US green energy campaign group SUN DAY.

“Notwithstanding a year-long effort by the Trump Administration and its congressional allies to prop up coal, nuclear, and natural gas at the expense of renewable energy sources, clean energy technologies have proven themselves to be amazingly resilient,” he said in a statement. “The unmistakable lesson to be drawn from the past five or more years of FERC data is that solar, wind, and the other renewable energy sources are carving out a large and rapidly-expanding share of the nation’s electrical generation.”

With coal power perhaps now showing signs of struggling on both sides of The Pond, it seems renewable electricity is not just picking up the slack, but is now very much a mainstream force for both US and UK power grids.