UK wind energy surpasses coal generation for first time

The UK made history 2016, with new analysis revealing that energy from wind turbines dwarfed energy sourced from coal power stations for the first time ever.

Figures from analysts Carbon Brief revealed that coal-generated electricity in the UK fell from 22.6% in 2015 to just 9.2% in 2016. In comparison, wind power provided 11.5% of all generation in 2016, which is actually 0.5% lower than figures for 2015.

The steady decline of coal has been a Government target for some time now, with all coal-fired power stations scheduled to close by 2025 under new legislative targets. Three major coal power stations were closed in 2016, leading to the substantial fall in generation.

The coal decline led to a series of records being set last year, including coal plants producing no output in May for the first time in more than a century. 2016 also saw multiple cases of solar panels generating more power than coal sources.

From April to the end of September, electricity generated by solar panels outstripped Britain’s coal power stations for the first time ever. However, the decline in coal hasn’t necessarily paved the way for a rise in renewables. The Carbon Brief analysis revealed that output from gas-fired power stations had climbed by 45% in 2016.

Christmas cheer

While 2016 was historic for the UK as a whole, the year saw numerous energy-related records broken in Scotland. The country had an “astonishing” month for wind energy, managing to generate 100% of its energy needs through wind turbines alone for two full days in September.

Scotland also set new wind power records at the end of December, generating the equivalent to the nation’s entire electricity needs for four straight days over the Christmas period. Data provided by WeatherEnergy and analysed by WWF Scotland revealed that on 23, 24, 25 and 26 December, wind turbines generated the record amount.

A new record was also set on Christmas Eve for the most amount of wind-generated power on a single day. Scottish wind turbines sent 74,042MWh of electricity to the National Grid on that day, despite total demand reaching 56,089MWh.

The 132% production of Scotland’s total electricity needs on Christmas Eve was actually topped by wind turbine generation on Christmas Day. Although the output was 4,000MWh lower on Christmas Day, demand was much lower at 45,756MWh, meaning that wind turbines produced 153% of the country’s total electricity demand – a new national record.

Commenting on the findings, WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said: “Scotland can be proud that its record-breaking wind power output at the end of December, and resulting export of excess electricity through interconnectors to England, greatly contributed to what also proved a record-breaking week for wind power across the entire UK.”

It’s been a momentous period for wind energy in the UK, which recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the UK’s first commercial wind project. Generating more than 340GWh of renewable electricity since December 1991, the Delabole Wind Farm in Cornwall was bought by independent renewable energy company Good Energy in 2002, the farm now generates enough electricity to power around 6,200 homes per year.

Matt Mace

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