Wind, solar, energy efficiency replaces coal generation in UK

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Since the start of the coalition government in 2010, coal’s role in the generation mix has fallen to historic lows.

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RETFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 30: The coal fuelled Cottam power station generates electricity on November 30, 2009 in Retford, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom. As world leaders prepare to gather for the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December, the resolve of the industrial nations seems to be weakening with President Obama stating that it would be impossible to reach a binding deal at the summit. Climate campaigners are concerned that this disappointing announcement is a backward step ahead of the summit. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Wind, solar and energy efficiency have replaced the vast majority of power previously provided by the UK’s coal fleet, a new analysis shows.

RETFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 30: The coal fuelled Cottam power station generates electricity on November 30, 2009 in Retford, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom. As world leaders prepare to gather for the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December, the resolve of the industrial nations seems to be weakening with President Obama stating that it would be impossible to reach a binding deal at the summit. Climate campaigners are concerned that this disappointing announcement is a backward step ahead of the summit. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Since the start of the coalition government in 2010, coal’s role in the generation mix has fallen to historic lows, culminating in the country’s first coal-free day since the 19th century earlier this year.

But the gap has not been plugged by natural gas, the UK’s now primary source of electricity.

Renewables and energy efficiency* have together covered nearly 85% of the power the UK no longer gets from its coal plants.

Though gas power surged in 2016 as coal’s fall accelerated, and may yet rise still in the coming years, it is actually producing significantly less power than it was at the beginning of the decade.

uk coal graph

Greenest government ever?

The UK’s electricity mix looks very different today than it did seven years ago, when the Conservatives first entered a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

In 2010 fossil fuels were producing nearly 100TWh more power than they are now, while renewable generation more than tripled by 2016, according to official government stats compiled by Biofuelwatch.

Wind – mostly onshore, which the Conservatives now oppose – soared from 10.2TWh in the coalition’s first year to 37.5TWh last year.

Solar went from practically nothing at the beginning of the decade to more than 10TWh in 2016.

UK power demand also fell by 7% over that period, which is mostly down to energy efficiency — although it’s not exactly the same thing.

The country’s net electricity imports via interconnectors also went up sevenfold.

Biomass was next in covering for coal’s fall, but as Biofuelwatch stress its role is being vastly overstated  by the industry, and some media outlets such as Forbes, which said earlier this year: Britain Has First Coalless Day Since 1880 – By Burning Even More Polluting Biomass Instead’

Meanwhile natural gas didn’t just fail as a coal power alternative, it fell alongside — though not nearly as much or as fast.

And it is rising again.

This was the generation mix of the coalition, with its web of subsidies for green and not-so green energy.

The rapid progress of solar and wind, however, has been halted since the Conservatives won a surprise majority in 2015, and gutted the very measures that was so successfully decarbonising Britain’s power sector.

Oil, nuclear and hydro stayed roughly the same between 2010-16

*energy efficiency calculated as reduction in electricity demand, which would make sense since the UK economy has been in a period of sustained growth

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8 Comments
  1. George Darroch 2 years ago

    They’re doing much better than Australia, despite being on a cold damp (and breezy) island in the North Atlantic.

    • Just_Chris 2 years ago

      AEMO did a study in 2013 looking at the potential available renewable energy resource in the Australian NEM, not crazy numbers that assume that we stop growing food. That study found we had about 500 times as much renewable energy as we need. If you compare that to the UK similar studies say it could potentially meet all its needs but it would be very close and you begin to see the gap between those who are trying and those that are not. Even Japan, a nation with rubbish solar resources, has more than 5 times the installed capacity we do.

      • Shane White 2 years ago

        The only things we need are emissions to plummet and negative emissions technology to be created. That’s all…

        Install solar ad inifinitum but if we keep flying, driving and consuming, it’s all for nought.

        We need public support for drastic action. A societal change precedes the technological change needed. And judging by the idiots surrounding me this end, I see little hope.

    • Shane White 2 years ago

      This is a hole though. Nobody expects any leadership from Straya do they? C’mon? We’re an utter joke, and we put a lot of effort into that.

  2. DJR96 2 years ago

    Clear writing on the wall the direction we are also heading in. But still some deny or don’t believe it……

    • Shane White 2 years ago

      Which direction’s that? A sprinkling of renewables taking us into disaster?
      What are the “imports”?
      The UK is the world’s largest importer of woodchips, from the US, to fuel the Drax power station.
      It seems this story is a little bit of good news and some accountancy tricks.
      What proportion of solar and wind is their energy mix?

      So very far from a safe climate (350ppm)/1.5C/2C pathway:
      http://www.gci.org.uk/images/GLOBAL_CARBON_BUDGET_GROSS_&_Per_Capita.png

      • DJR96 2 years ago

        What I mean is that we have renewables being installed whether politicians like it or not.
        And the disaster that may come is if we don’t reform the network to ensure it remains secure, stable and reliable irrespective of how much renewables generation there is. And nothing is being done about that.

        • Shane White 2 years ago

          Imagine if we had a rapid roll out of renewables. The public would be overjoyed and there’d be a general sense of progress.
          Except it wouldn’t be enough. People would still drive, fly and not even be aware of the change needed to prevent the looming climate disaster, let alone demand and support the drastic change needed.
          Society remains in 1990. Have a read of this trash:
          http://www.smh.com.au/world/while-the-us-exits-the-paris-accord-china-takes-real-action-on-climate-change-20170602-gwj5kk.html
          Yawn. This kind of journalism fuels White Moderate’s acceptance that everything is generally fine and there’s no need to worry.

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