Wind power drives UK renewables to 30% share of electricity mix

Almost 30% of the UK's electricity in 2017 was generated from renewables, nearly a 5% increase on the previous year, as increased solar and wind installations continue to decarbonise the UK's energy and electricity mix.

The UK Government’s latest Digest of UK Energy Statistics found that renewables accounted for 29.3% of the UK’s electricity in 2017, up from 24.5% in 2016. Wind power accounted for half of the renewables mix, with 8.6% source from onshore wind and 6.2% from offshore. In total, electricity generated from wind power increased by 11% compared to 2016 levels.

The latest annual statistics show that output growths from wind, solar, hydro, bioenergy and waste created a 0.5% increase in primary energy production in the UK – despite overall coal outputs falling “to a record low level” of three million tonnes – a 27% decline compared to 2016.

The increase was attributed to a 13.6% increase in renewable generation capacity to 40.6GW and higher average wind speeds. Low-carbon electricity’s share of generation increased from 45.6% to a record 50.1%, the data notes, again attributing growth to the increase in renewables generation.

Notably, the increase in renewables generation is assisting the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. Provisional Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimates suggest that overall emissions fell by 3.2% – or 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – due to the injection of low-carbon sources to the energy mix.

The data found that, on average, a kilowatt hour of electricity generated in 2017 produced 225 grams of C02, down from 483g in 2012. According to RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck, the latest figures suggest that the UK is building an energy system “fit for the future”, but only if onshore wind policy is reformed.

“This is a radical shift, and we will see ever more low-cost renewables meeting flexible demand from homes, electric vehicles and new manufacturing processes and industries,” Pinchbeck said.

“It’s great to see that the UK’s cheapest power source, onshore wind, is making such a significant contribution to the nation’s power needs. So, it’s baffling that Government is still excluding new onshore wind projects from the marketplace. Opinion polls show that two-thirds of people think Ministers should change their current policy and allow onshore wind to go ahead where it has local support, and most Conservative voters agree with them.”

Onshore hopes

Onshore wind has been locked out of the UK’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) framework since 2015, with the current auction process only open to less established renewable technologies such as offshore wind.

However, reports suggest that 1GW of new onshore wind farms would be £30m cheaper a year than offshore wind, and £100m less than new nuclear or biomass plants. In response, the UK Government has signalled that onshore wind and solar projects could be allowed to compete for subsidies in a future CfD auction.

But onshore wind remains absent from the latest round of CfD auctions, which will take place in May 2019. The UK Government has unveiled plans to add between 1GW to 2GW of renewable wind power annually throughout the 2020s, and offshore wind and, for the first time, remote island wind providers are eligible to bid for contracts at the next CfD auctions.

According to the Digest, the contribution of onshore wind to the UK grew by 39% in 2017, while offshore wind grew by 27%. Generation from solar and hydro sources rose by 11 and 10% respectively.

In related news, industry body WindEurope found that the UK installed 911MW out of a total 1.1GW of offshore wind projects across Europe in the first half of 2018.

A total of 4.5GW of additional wind energy capacity came online in Europe in early 2018. However, this figure is short of the 6.1GW added over the same period in 2017. Onshore wind accounted for 3.3GW of new additions for the first half of 2018, with Germany, France and Denmark the primary drivers of growth.

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Scottish Scientist says:

    OK but "renewables to 30% share of electricity mix" is nothing to boast about when other countries generate 90% to 100% of electricity from renewable sources already – for example, the UK’s northern neighbours neighbours Iceland and Norway.

    Wikipedia – List of countries by electricity production from renewable sources

    Neither would I describe the UK’s modest progress in the transition to clean and renewable energy as "a radical shift", which one might if say, the UK was on a trajectory to get to 100% renewable energy in 5 years.

    Independent Scientific Adviser for Scotland
    * Wind, storage and back-up system designer
    * Double Tidal Lagoon Baseload Scheme
    * Off-Shore Electricity from Wind, Solar and Hydrogen Power
    * World s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?
    * Modelling of wind and pumped-storage power
    * Scotland Electricity Generation my plan for 2020
    * South America GREAT for Renewable Energy

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