Low-carbon energy generated a majority of the UK’s electricity in 2018 — for the first time ever.
The government published its annual review of energy statistics on Thursday, showing that low-carbon energy’s share of generation — including renewables and electricity from nuclear reactors — increased from 50% in 2017 to a record-breaking 52.6% last year.
Meanwhile, electricity solely generated from renewable sources in Britain last year broke another record — rising to 33% of the UK’s total electricity generation. That’s up by 3.8% compared to 2017’s total, which had itself been a record.
The increase in renewables and low-carbon energy has surpassed coal and gas, which made up less than 45% of Britain’s electricity last year, according to the report.
The changes are largely a result of a spike in Britain’s capacity to generate power from renewable sources — up by 10% last year.
The latest figures “clearly show that investment in renewables and the government’s championing of offshore wind is delivering rapid change to our energy system,” Emma Pinchbeck, the deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, told the Guardian.
“As well as helping keep prices down for consumers and boosting the competitiveness of our businesses, renewables are a huge economic opportunity, bringing employment and investment to all parts of the UK,” she added.
The report also highlighted that the UK’s estimated overall carbon dioxide emissions fell by 9.1 million tonnes — a drop of about 2.4% — between 2017 and 2018.
Meanwhile, the amount of electricity being generated by coal fell from 6.7% in 2017 to 5.1% in 2018. And, in terms of primary energy consumption, coal has fallen from 16.9% in 2008 to 4.4% in 2018 — and the contribution of bioenergy and waste has more than trebled over the same period.
In May this year, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) confirmed that the UK had completed a full week without using coal, for the first time since the first coal-fired power station for public use was opened in London in 1882.
“While this is the first time this has happened, I predict it will become the new normal,” Fintan Slye, director of ESO, said at the time.
Coal is one of the worst contributors to carbon emissions and global warming, and minimising its use is going to be vital in achieving the UK’s legally-binding commitment to hitting zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Britain became the first major economy in the world to legislate to be entirely “net zero” by 2050, when it announced the commitment in June this year.
“Now is the time to go further and faster to safeguard the environment for our children,” said then Prime Minister Theresa May, announcing the new target. “We must lead the world to a cleaner, greener form of growth.”
But, despite the promising changes, there is still more the government could be doing to help provide clean electricity.
Pinchbeck continued: “To achieve its net zero ambitions, the new government needs to go further and faster — and the first steps should be removing the barriers to onshore wind which is our cheapest source of power, and building on our successes in innovative technologies like tidal energy and floating wind, where the UK can be a world leader.”