Renewables accounted for record 47% of UK generation in first quarter of 2020

In total

According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) latest energy trends data, published on Thursday (25 June), renewables’ share of electricity generation was 47% during the quarter, up from 35.9% in the first quarter of 2019. The proportion is also notably higher than the previous quarterly record of 39%, set last summer.

When other low-carbon forms of generation, including biomass and nuclear, are factored in, the proportion rises to 62.1%, up from the previous record of 51.8%.

BEIS attributes much of the progress made during the quarter to the UK’s wind sector. Additional capacity was installed and high load factors were recorded due to weather conditions. On the former, BEIS states that the UK played host to 47.4GW of wind generation capacity by the end of March, up 5.2% on March 2019. On the latter, the energy trends report states that output from renewables was “35% higher and at a record quarterly high due to record levels of wind generation in February 2020, when extreme wind conditions were experienced during Storms Ciara and Dennis”.

In total, wind power generated 30% of the UK’s electricity in the first quarter, beating the previous record of 22.3% set in the final months of 2019. Offshore wind expanded more rapidly than onshore, given the historic policy context; onshore wind was only recently allowed back into the Contracts for Difference (CfD) process. Moreover, offshore wind benefits from a sector deal, but a similar policy framework is yet to be completed for onshore.

Bioenergy production was also up 19% year-on-year, with BEIS again tracking increased capacity and higher load factors.

Nuclear’s generation share, meanwhile, was down slightly (0.8%) on a year-on-year basis as the sector’s output fell 5.8% on a quarter-by-quarter basis. During the first quarter of 2020, an outage was completed at Heysham 1 while outages continued at Dungeness B, Hunterson B and Heysham 2. A further outage started at Hinkley Point B.

As for fossil fuels, coal generation remained steady on a year-on-year basis, both in terms of generation share and output. Oil production, meanwhile, was down 5.5%, while natural gas production rose by 3.6%. Overall, the UK’s fossil fuel dependence was down 2.3% year-on-year basis.

What happens next?

RenewableUK’s head of policy and regulation Rebecca Williams said the trends “write very large indeed” the extent and pace of the nation’s low-carbon energy transition.

“As the Government works with us on a massive expansion of renewables as part of the UK’s green economic recovery after the pandemic, you can be sure that the latest records, extraordinary though they are, will be broken again in the years ahead, as we phase out fossil fuels to reach net-zero emissions,” Williams added.

Emissions from the UK’s power generation sector have plummeted by more than two-thirds since 2008. Key figures from across the green economy are calling for a post-Covid-19 stimulus package that ensures further and faster progress in this field and similar policy supports for the decarbonisation of other sectors.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has concluded that the UK will need to quadruple its low-carbon energy generation capacity by 2050, against a 2017 baseline, if it is to meet its long-term net-zero goal.

Sarah George

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