UK renewable energy capacity surpasses fossil fuels for first time

The capacity of renewable energy has overtaken that of fossil fuels in the UK for the first time, in a milestone that experts said would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

In the past five years, the amount of renewable capacity has tripled while fossil fuels’ has fallen by one-third, as power stations reached the end of their life or became uneconomic.

The result is that between July and September, the capacity of wind, solar, biomass and hydropower reached 41.9 gigawatts, exceeding the 41.2GW capacity of coal, gas and oil-fired power plants.

Imperial College London, which compiled the figures, said the rate at which renewables had been built in the past few years was greater than the “dash for gas” in the 1990s.

Dr Iain Staffell, who undertook the research, said: “Britain’s power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and this quarter saw a major milestone on the journey.”

However, the amount of power from fossil fuels was still greater over the quarter, at about 40% of electricity generation compared with 28% for renewable sources.

In total, 57% of electricity generation was low carbon over the period, produced either by renewables or nuclear power stations.

In terms of installed capacity, wind is the biggest source of renewables at more than 20GW, followed by solar spread across nearly 1m rooftops and in fields. Biomass is third.

In the past year, coal capacity has fallen by one-quarter, and there are only six coal-fired plants left in the UK.

Coal operators have been affected by the UK’s carbon tax on electricity generation, as well as competition from gas, though they have enjoyed a recent fillip from high gas prices.

Fortunes for new gas power stations are mixed. This week, the German energy company RWE said it was freezing plans for a new 2.5GW gas plant in Tilbury, Essex. However, UK-listed SSE said it had broken ground on Tuesday on a new 840MW gas power station in Lincolnshire.

The Imperial College London research, which was commissioned by the gas, coal and biomass company Drax, also found the cost of balancing the energy system had risen to a 10-year high of £3.8m per day between July and September.

Adam Vaughan

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 

Comments (4)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    Should we really be counting Biomass in the Renewables column? Is burning trees really renewable, sustainable and low carbon? After all coal is purely compressed tree and an order of magnitude more energy dense.

    While small scale biomass using the waste from timber production (sawdust, chippings and unusable offcuts) to generate either electricity or heat locally is a good use of wood I personally don’t think chopping down trees to make wood pellets, transporting them half way across the world, to burn in a power station, to make electricity is sustainable or green. Just look at how much oil is used to produce and transport all those wood chips, is that really low carbon?

    Otherwise it’s quite an achievement really. With additional Hydro schemes being built in Scotland, development of Tidal Stream around the shores of our island and other measures it won’t be long before 75%+ is low carbon and many of the CCGT stations are being used purely for standby or emergency generation rather than baseload.

  2. Richard Phillips says:


    Says it all

    Richard Phillips

  3. David Peacock says:

    Come on edie! Surely a comparison of fossil fuels with renewables and low carbon should at least mention capacity factors and relative energy generation as well as installed capacity?

    David Peacock

  4. Gerry Goldner says:

    In many online news items about renewables and in particular Solar PV on the domestic roofs, there are two parts to the generation. The amount generated in the property is metered and presumably fed into the suppliers’ reports. However, there is a delay of at least one month before the value is known.
    In the case of export volumes, how is the output calculated and who aggregates the data from over a million homes.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie