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Environment

Renewable Energy Just Overtook Fossil Fuels in the UK for the First Time

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals include Goal 12 for responsible consumption and production, and Goal 13 for climate action. As climate protests grips London, the race to renewable energy has never been more vital. In order to avoid ecological catastrophe, we must find a more sustainable way of living. Join the movement by taking environmental action here. 

In the last few years, we’ve seen some brief glimpses of progress against climate change.

In 2016, wind power generated more electricity than coal for the first time ever in the UK. The following year, Britain went a whole day without burning coal, something that hadn’t happened for over two centuries. Then, in the first few months of 2018, Britain's wind power overtook nuclear — before fossil fuels were overtaken by renewables and nuclear energy combined earlier this year.

We’re in the midst of a historic, fierce fight for climate justice: as Extinction Rebellion protesters drew London to a standstill for a second campaign of disruption, news broke that renewable energy had finally beaten fossil fuels (withoutthe help of nuclear) for the first time since 1882. 

It happened in the most recent quarter of this year: renewable energy — not including nuclear — provided 40% of all of Britain’s electricity needs.

That’s a smidgen higher than the 39% of electricity generated by fossil fuels — meaning that the UK was powered more by renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, and biomass than by gas, oil, and coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

This has been a transformative decade when it comes to renewable energy. In 2010, fossil fuels generated 10 times more electricity than renewables — and three-quarters of total British electricity. But Carbon Brief reports that while overall demand for electricity has dropped, renewable energy power has more than quadrupled, just as generation from fossil fuels has been sliced in half. 

Think of it in terms of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. The whole world belonged to Perry in 2010: Teenage Dream was the first record since Michael Jackson’s Bad to earn five Billboard No. 1 singles. It was her zenith — way before Swift tried her hand at the big time with 2012’s Red.

But later, Perry would toil for hits — like the fossil fuel industry, even attempting competitive “wokeness” — while Swift stole her superstar mantle. Now Perry might still be one of the most powerful behemoths in music, but she’s still losing ground — all while Swift’s renewable pop factory of innovation and evolution learns fresh lessons in how to run the game.

Naturally, that might cause friction.

The biggest change in British power consumption in recent years has come from wind power.

Britain built the world’s biggest offshore wind farm this year just off the Yorkshire coast, stretching over five times the size of Hull with enough juice to power a million homes. It was then followed by a plan to build the largest individual wind turbines ever made — each one twice as tall as Big Ben and able to power 16,000 homes.

Wind is due to expand even further too. A deal struck by the UK government in March will see hundreds of millions worth of investment pour into wind power until it makes up a third of all electricity by 2030. If all goes to plan, renewables will then power 70% of all British electricity.

Right now, wind alone powers 20% of all electricity across the country — while solar accounts for 6% and biomass makes up 12%, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, gas-fired power is the single largest source at 38%, as coal continues to blink out of life at less than 1% ahead of a total ban approaching in 2025. 

Though if Adele releases that rumoured album soon, perhaps the national grid might survive off melancholy alone throughout the winter.

“Already, we’ve cut emissions by 40% while growing the economy by two-thirds since 1990,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth. “Now, with more offshore wind projects on the way at record low prices we plan to go even further and faster in the years to come.”