UK broke renewable energy generation record in 2019, latest BEIS figures show

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published its latest annual energy statistics, revealing that a record 37.1% of the electricity generated in the UK in 2019 was renewable.

UK broke renewable energy generation record in 2019, latest BEIS figures show

Published today (30 July), the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) serves as the Government’s energy “bible”, documenting figures on energy production, consumption, demand, imports and exports. The latest edition covers the 2019 calendar year.

It reveals that 37.1% of the electricity generated in the UK in 2019 was renewable, up from 33.1% in 2018. BEIS attributes this growth in proportion to coal plants coming offline ahead of the 2024 deadline and to the rapid expansion of the nation’s offshore wind sector. Of the total electricity generated, a record 20% was attributable to wind – 10% to offshore and 10% to onshore.

The combined output of domestic wind, solar and hydropower was up 11% year-on-year, while bioenergy output was also up by 1.6%. At the same time, the overall output of the UK’s fossil fuel sector decreased slightly (0.3%), with coal closures and natural gas scale-backs mainly being offset by a rise in primary oil production as the new Clair Ridge field.

When other low-carbon generation methods including nuclear are added to the calculation, 54.4% of the UK’s generation in 2019 is accounted for. The majority of the remaining generation is attributable to natural gas (40.6%), while coal’s share fell to an all-time low of 2.1%, as several coal-free records were broken.

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said the figures prove “confirm just how far we’ve come in the revolution in power generation”, given that renewable generation accounted for just 7% of the UK total a decade ago.

“At a time when so many things seem uncertain, the consistent rise of renewables, keeping the UK powered up, bringing billions in investment in new energy infrastructure and creating highly skilled jobs all over the country, is a terrific success story we can all be proud of,” Onn said.

The road ahead

The above DUKES figures only account for domestic energy generation, however, and the UK has been a net importer of energy since 2004. As such, the DUKES reveals that 78.3% of the energy consumed in the UK in 2019 did ultimately originate from fossil fuels.

While 19.8% of the UK’s total primary energy consumption was accounted for by low-carbon energy – a record, up from the 2018 figure of 18.9% – it is clear that more must be done to decarbonise the energy which the UK imports.

Aside from decarbonising the energy mix, decreasing energy demand is seen as a key piece of the net-zero puzzle. In its most recent Future Energy Scenarios report, National Grid ESO outlined how reducing the energy demand of the transport sector by 75% and the housing sector by 25% would fast-track the UK’s progress towards its long-term climate goals.

According to the DUKES figures, primary energy consumption fell by 1.2% on a year-on-year, temperature adjusted basis. Final energy consumption was also down on the same bases, by 0.9%. BEIS attributes this mainly to a decreased use of heating.

Going forward, RenewableUK is hoping for sectors like heat and transport to decarbonise at the pace seen to date in the UK’s electricity sector.

“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,” Onn said.

Similarly, the Renewable Energy Association’s (REA) chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: “The slow and modest growth of decarbonising heat and transport also needs to be highlighted….The UK still has legally binding targets to reach 15% renewable energy by this year and hese figures for 2019 demonstrate that power is doing all the heavy lifting in getting us towards that target.”

These calls to action echoes those made in many green recovery policy briefings and campaigns. In response, the Government is due to publish its Heat Strategy and Buildings Strategy in Autumn, with a roadmap for decarbonising “all modes of transport” due later in the year.

Sarah George

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