Wind and solar make more electricity than nuclear for first time in UK
Windfarms and solar panels produced more electricity than the UK's eight nuclear power stations for the first time at the end of last year, official figures show.
Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions also continued to fall, dropping 3% in 2017, as coal use fell and the use of renewables climbed.
Energy experienced the biggest drop in emissions of any UK sector, of 8%, while pollution from transport and businesses stayed flat.
Energy industry chiefs said the figures showed that the government should rethink its ban on onshore wind subsidies, a move that ministers have hinted could happen soon.
Lawrence Slade, chief executive of the big six lobby group Energy UK, said: “We need to keep up the pace … by ensuring that the lowest cost renewables are no longer excluded from the market.”
Across the whole year, low-carbon sources of power – wind, solar, biomass and nuclear – provided a record 50.4% of electricity, up from 45.7% in 2016.
But in the fourth quarter of 2017, high wind speeds, new renewables installations and lower nuclear output saw wind and solar becoming the second biggest source of power for the first time.
Wind and solar generated 18.33 terawatt hours (TWh), with nuclear on 16.69TWh, the figures published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show.
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All well and good but remember there have been many days when we had to switch coal fired stations on to fill the gap in supply when wind and solar were producing next to nothing.
Solar of course doesn’t provide any power at night and very limited when it is raining, snowing or plain old fashioned overcast. Wind turbines need a minimum wind speed to produce enough electricity to power themselves, below this they are actually net consumers of power.
By way of examples:
09:20 2nd Nov 2017 – wind and solar 0.8 and 1.2GW out of 42.5GW demand. Coal 4.5GW, Nuclear 8.3GW, Gas 24.2GW
09:13 19th Feb 2018 – wind and solar 2.3GW and 0.16GW out of 43GW demand. Coal 3.9GW, Nuclear 8.0GW, Gas 23.6GW
11:35 6th March 2018 – wind and solar 2.5GW and 3GW out of 44GW demand. Coal 7.3GW, Nuclear 8.3GW, Gas 18.9GW
These are just 3 examples but there were many other periods when renewables were providing less than 10% of UK demand and for prolonged periods of time. Whilst yes there are times when the balance is reversed it is not reliable enough to switch off coal, nuclear or gas anytime soon. There needs to be a degree of perspective maintained in the discussion.
I would also like to point out that I believe we will have to cut our reliance on burning things to generate electricity in the future but that we can not rely on irregular supplies such as wind and solar without backup options.
I think that the point of this story is that there were many days when fewer coal fired stations were required thanks to wind and solar. An idle coal burner may be costing some money but it is not creating CO2. With accurate forecasting and the availability of flexible gas generation and a few other techniques, the grid can better utilise the available wind and solar.
Don t forget the grid spends all day switching generation off and on.
On March 6th for example the supply changed from a peak of about 45GW to 27GW in a few hours so the grid is equipped to cope with intermittent wind and solar.
Some may argue that we are wasting money by having back up for renewables but that extra money is the price of carbon reduction.
Roger – I agree the grid is capable of dealing with large fluctuations in demand but that is down to the flexibility of the supply and the traditional "baseload" generators. I just wanted to make sure the fact that on many occasions we had to rely on coal fired stations to make up for the lack of any renewables.
In an ideal world we would be able to manage without backup systems but it is an unwise man that works without a safety net
Solar don’t work in the dark and wind doesn’t blow all the time. You can hype it up all you want and massage the statistics all you like. It wont be long till the renewable split between baseload power generation and renewables will cause blackouts.
@Ben – and even if the wind is blowing if it isn’t above a minimum speed the blades may be turning but the wind turbine is a net consumer of power
@Ben there is nothing special about "baseload" power. Baseload is just a definition of the minimum amount of power required and is therefore suitable for continuous generators such as nuclear.
The statistics are not massaged. They are what actually happened and illustrates how flexible the grid is coping with periods as you say when the sun doesn’t shine. It has always been this way. The daily large swings from maximum to minimum have always been there and the grid has coped.
New technology is making this task a lot easier and if solar and wind didn’t exist things like demand side response would still be important because the extra flexibility means the existing grid can be run more efficiently and therefore cheaply.
Grab the solar and wind when you can but keep a hand close to the big red button on the gas generators. But they are already doing that.