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UK’s renewable energy push drives fastest decarbonisation in the world

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A new independent analysis made by academics from Imperial College London has revealed that the UK’s push towards renewable energy since 2010 has driven the fastest rate of decarbonisation anywhere in the world.

Shift to renewables makes the UK the best decarbonisation performer in the world

According to the analysis, the emissions from the power sector tumbled from 161 million tonnes to 54 million between 2010 to 2019. The big decline was a result of the increased focus on renewable sources of power generation.

“In the past decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in Britain’s power system, which has transformed at a speed never seen before. Several factors made significant contributions to falling emissions including carbon prices, coal retirements, conversions to biomass and the growth in wind capacity. But reductions in electricity demand dwarfed all the others- helping to push down power prices and environmental impacts,” said Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London.

The shift to renewables has resulted in the pace of decarbonisation being the fastest in the world over the last decade.

Demand for electricity was also shown to have declined by 13% over the decade due to the introduction of more energy-efficient technologies. This decrease is made even more surprising since over the same period the UK population grew by 7% and GDP rose by a quarter.

New plans could reverse decarbonisation rates

These gains the report warns could be harmed by the planned increase in the electrification of heating and transport as recently proposed by Ofgem and the government. With these set to soar the gains made could, in the long run, be wiped out making those policies more environmentally harmful than the current situation.

Wind generation has already broken records for energy production, but according to Drax its Biomass that can be the biggest contributor to reducing emissions.

“Replacing coal with sustainable biomass at Drax has cut our carbon emissions by more than 80%, transforming the business to become the largest renewable power generator in the UK, accelerating decarbonisation over the decade as well as supporting lower wholesale power prices. As the UK strives to achieve its world-leading net zero carbon target, it’s clear the power system will have to continue evolving and many different solutions, including negative emissions technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), will be needed alongside more renewables,” said Drax chief executive of generation Andy Koss.

Whether this news will appease the likes of Extinction Rebellion who once again made the headlines for causing chaos in Cambridge and London is highly unlikely, but as Dr Stafell said:

“If this pace of change can be maintained, renewables could provide more than half Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and the power system could be practically carbon-free.”


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 18, 2020

Great to see for the UK. How much of this would you say is attributable to unique factors in the UK (geographically, in public opinion, in market setups) and how much is more or less 'exportable' as a roadmap for other nations to follow?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 18, 2020

UK emissions reductions are hitting the same wall Germany's did, at almost exactly the same market penertration (37%). And not coincidentally, at almost exactly the capacity factor of Irish wind (37%).

Analysis: UK low-carbon electricity generation stalls in 2019

"The amount of electricity generated by low-carbon sources in the UK stalled in 2019, Carbon Brief analysis shows. Low-carbon electricity output from wind, solar, nuclear, hydro and biomass rose by just 1 terawatt hour (TWh, less than 1%) in 2019. It represents the smallest annual increase in a decade, where annual growth averaged 9TWh. This growth will need to double in the 2020s to meet UK climate targets while replacing old nuclear plants as they retire."

Ironically, emissions reductions from sustainable sources of energy appear to be unsustainable.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 18, 2020

Stall in low-carbon growth in UK for 2019 was due to poor performance from Nuclear.  Without this decline -   there would have been no "stall".

Did you actually not read this paragraph from article you quote.

There was another increase for wind power in 2019 (up 8TWh, 14%), as several large new windfarms were completed including the 1.2GW Hornsea One project in October and the 0.6GW Beatrice offshore windfarm in Q2 of 2019. But this was offset by a decline for nuclear (down 9TWh, 14%), due to ongoing outages for reactors at Hunterston in Scotland and Dungeness in Kent.


By the way, Irish wind generation was up another 9% in 2019 - replacing coal and NG.

Wind - which was 33% of total generation in 2019 - is just getting started.  This is especially true with offshore wind. Ireland is far behind its neighbor the UK in this regard and has massive potential. There will be annual auctions over the next few years and multiple projects will be developed before 2030.

Additionally,  a 700 MW interconnector between Ireland and  France is being developed.

The Celtic Interconnector is being developed by Irish national electricity grid operator EirGrid and its French counterpart RTE and is expected to help Ireland switch to 70% renewable energy and drive down electricity prices for consumers through increased competition. The total estimated cost of the project is €1bn.

Like many other places - Ireland is just getting started with storage.

This project is going live.

The hybrid battery-and-wind project, which combines 11 MW of battery with 23 MW of onshore wind, will be fully operational in early 2020.

Other upcoming projects:

Ireland allocates 110 MW in large scale storage auction

The three new storage projects will supplement several others under development in Ireland, including two 100 MW lithium-ion storage units Hanwha Energy Corporation and Lumcloon Energy are deploying near the municipalities of Ferbane and Shannonbridge and facilities German renewables business Innogy is planning in the counties of Dublin, Meath and Monaghan.

Matthew Olney's picture

Thank Matthew for the Post!

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