Renewable generation overtakes fossil fuels in UK electricity for first time

Pictured: The Beatrice Offshore Windfarm is the UK's second-largest. Image: SSE

The renewables record was set in the third quarter of this year after its share of the electricity mix rose to 40%.

It is the first time that electricity from British windfarms, solar panels and renewable biomass plants has surpassed fossil fuels since the UK’s first power plant fired up in 1882.

The new milestone confirms predictions made by National Grid that 2019 will be the first year since the Industrial Revolution that zero-carbon electricity – renewables and nuclear – overtakes gas and coal-fired power.

A string of new offshore windfarms built this year helped nudge renewables past fossil fuels, which made up 39% of UK electricity, in a crucial tipping point in Britain’s energy transition.

Fossil fuels made up four-fifths of the country’s electricity fewer than 10 years ago, split between gas and coal, but the latest analysis by Carbon Brief shows that coal-fired power was less than 1% of all electricity generated.

British coal plants are shutting down ahead of a 2025 ban. By next sprin,g just four coal plants will remain in the UK: the West Burton A and Ratcliffe-on-Soar plants in Nottinghamshire, Kilroot in Northern Ireland and two generation units at the Drax site in North Yorkshire, which are earmarked for conversion to burn gas.

Gas-fired power makes up the bulk of the dwindling share of fossil fuels in the energy system at 38%. Nuclear power provided slightly less than a fifth of the UK’s electricity in the last quarter, the report said.

Wind power is the UK’s strongest source of renewable energy and made up 20% of the UK’s electricity following a series of major windfarm openings in recent years. Electricity from renewable biomass plants made up 12% of the energy system, while solar panels contributed 6%.

The world’s largest offshore windfarm, the Hornsea One project, began generating electricity off the Norfolk coast in February, reaching a peak capacity of 1,200MW in October. It followed the opening of the Beatrice windfarm off the north-east coast of Scotland over the summer.

Together, these schemes almost doubled the 2,100MW worth of offshore capacity which began powering homes in 2018.

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the renewables record is “yet another milestone on our path towards ending our contribution to climate change altogether by 2050”.

He said: “Already, we’ve cut emissions by 40% while growing the economy by two thirds since 1990. Now, with more offshore wind projects on the way at record low prices, we plan to go even further and faster in the years to come.”

Luke Clark, of Renewable UK, said the industry hopes to treble the size of its offshore wind sector by 2030 to generate more than a third of the UK’s electricity


Under the Labour party’s plans for Green Industrial Revolution, the offshore wind industry would grow five-fold in a decade, with the addition of an extra 37 giant offshore windfarms and 70,000 new jobs.

According to Renewable UK, the growth of the renewables industry is good news for energy bills, as well as the environment, due to the steep fall in the cost of wind and solar power technologies over recent years.

“The cost of new offshore wind projects, for example, has just fallen to an all-time low, making onshore and offshore wind our lowest-cost large scale power sources,” Clark said.

The next generation of offshore windfarms is expected to cost about £40 for every megawatt-hour of electricity generated, less than the average market price for electricity on the wholesale energy markets.

“If the government were to back a range of technologies – like onshore wind and marine renewables – in the same way as it is backing offshore wind, consumers and businesses would be able to fully reap the benefits of the transition to a low carbon economy,” Clark said.

Jillian Ambrose

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 


Comments (4)

  1. Colin Matthews says:

    A good start, however let s see the figures for quarter one 2020 when the electricity demand is at its highest in winter and offshore wind or solar may not be at their optimum generation level . Remember government also wishes to transfer heat to an electric platform and as such that requires an additional twice the capacity of the current electricity generation capability. In all cases you need to have The maximum demand point Capacity available otherwise people Or industry will have to go without. This is just reality.

  2. Richard Phillips says:

    In the apparent bargain price of wind generation, have we somehow forgotten the subsidies still paid for offshore generation?

    And we must not forget the very large additional cost of this highly and rapidly variable source on the additional costs from National Grid. None of these are itemised on the consumers bill, indeed a lot of it is secret.

    The danger of grid instability due to the high variability of wind power seems to be lost on the upper echelons of Government, who simply do not understand the science, so ignore it; and upon so many reporters in this area

    Richard Phillips

  3. Roger Munford says:

    Richard Phillips There are enough reminders from the press to ensure that we never forget subsidies for wind generation but the fossil fuel subsidies such as the tax payer funded decommissioning of North Sea platforms dont seem to find the space. The North sea was a great boon to the nations balance of payments and if subsidies were necessary to get the benefits then it was money well spent.
    As you are probably aware the UK imports increasing amounts of gas and reducing our reliance on foreign imports must be a good thing.
    When the national grid was set up there were huge amounts of redundancy because the technology of the day could not cope with sudden change. Today’s grid is much more efficient with high speed communication and the ability to supply large amounts of power within seconds. Would you like to go back to the good old days of spinning reserve where coal stations were all powered up but not producing anything.
    As for itemising all the subsidies on a consumers bill. Is there ever an example of an invoice that lists the tax paid, directors bonuses, labour transport etc etc. Because they are not listed they must be "secret". The Amazon invoice would be bigger than the parcel.
    I agree that "the government simply do not understand the science" so it is lucky that engineers are running the grid and I am sure that the people who have kept it running since the 30’s without interruption including the war, would have noticed the danger of grid instability and taken measures against it. Go to and see in real time how the grid seamlessly balances wind gas coal nuclear and foreign imports.

  4. Richard Phillips says:

    Roger, I have little sympathy with public subsidy for platform removal; was gas and oil not a private industry, highly profitable? Why did they not pay, they put them up.
    With regard to gas imports for power, fracking for our own gas has been tossed aside at the behest of an ignorant fringe, why?

    The matter of redundancy is more complex than your description. Certainly power stations were running at a low level, but gas stations still do, in order to balance wind generation and demand. This is uneconomic, so they have to be subsidised. There are worries in this area, now termed power inertia. But as wind power grows, and reliable fossil generation falls, it is falling also. For a serious outage, all the deft rapid communication on Earth will not replace actual generation. Forget batteries for industrial quantities, the cost would be a serious portion of GDP.

    Yes, I would opt for spinning reserve, inertia, wind and solar have none…Above about 30% wind power this is regarded as serious.

    Serious wind outages, ie generation of a nominal 20GW down to a few hundred MW, can last for days on end, and did so last July. But in mid-winter that is not good

    I agree entirely with your comment concerning the place of engineers. The original Grid was built on the specifications of two electrical engineers, Mertz and Kennedy their work was almost verbatim in the form of the Electricity (Supply) Act 1926. Completed in 1935, it enabled the UK to have a powerful industrial base in WWII.

    Certainly engineers will build and run our Grid, after the accountants have agreed.

    We only have such a poor generator as wind because it has been very profitable for the suppliers

    I am convinced that our electricity supply would be an optimum or thereabouts with some 80% nuclear, balance UK fracked gas. Renewables should not feature on account of their unreliability. But this takes time, simply because a certain Prime Minister dumped all our nuclear industry, about 30 years ago!

    Richard Phillips

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