The United Kingdom is now generating more electricity from renewable sources of energy than from fossil fuels, according to the country’s National Grid.
The historic achievement suggests that the country could potentially reach its target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and shows that renewable energy can viably replace fossil fuels.
“The incredible progress that Britain has made in the past 10 years means we can now say 2019 will be the year net zero power beats fossil fuel fired generation for the first time,” John Pettigrew, CEO of National Grid, said in a statement on Friday. “Having reached this landmark tipping point, the question is what are we doing today to get to net zero as quickly as possible?”
“As we look to the future we are proud to champion world-leading feats of British engineering as we move to a net zero power grid,” he added.
The country reached this target because of major investments that have been made in recent years. For example, the country was getting 30.4% of its energy from coal plants a decade ago, and now relies on coal for just 2.5% of its electricity. Similarly, wind power went from meeting 1.3% of the demand for electricity a decade ago to 16.8% today.
Overall, wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, and storage currently accounts for 47.9% of the country’s electricity production, compared to 46.6% for fossil fuels.
The National Grid said that from now on, the country will get the majority of its electricity from renewable sources.
Energy providers face unique hurdles when scaling up renewable energy.
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The most sustainable forms of renewable energy — solar, wind, and hydropower — are variable by nature, meaning how much energy they’re able to generate on any given day depends on weather and climate patterns.
For example, if it’s very sunny one day, a lot of solar power will be generated, whereas a cloudy day will lead to less solar output.
As a result, power grids experience fluctuations in energy production that don’t happen with fossil fuels that are burned as needed. Further, if an energy grid is overwhelmed with renewable energy, a large percentage will likely be wasted as it has nowhere to go.
Utility providers have tried to address this situation by investing in better storage systems that can parcel out and save energy as needed.
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The UK is also developing “interconnectors” that connect to other country’s energy grids, allowing for more efficient energy use. As par of this scheme, if Norway generates excess energy, they’ll simply send it to the UK.
“The interconnectors that connect our electricity grid into Norway’s hydro power are part of this story, as is having the know-how to bring renewable generation onstream to complement conventional sources of generating power,” Pettigrew said. “This will help accelerate our progress towards delivering cleaner, greener energy for Britain’s homes, our travel and our work as quickly as possible.”
The transition to a sustainable economy has been supported by the private sector as well, with many large companies vowing to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources.
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The UK isn’t the only country making strides toward a zero emissions future. Scotland, Sweden, Germany, and Costa Rica, are all closer to achieving fully renewable electric grids.
Transforming how electricity is produced is only the first step toward eliminating greenhouse gas emissions. Countries also have to promote electric car use, end industrial emissions from factories, support sustainable agricultural methods, and much more.
Beyond bringing emissions to zero, countries also have to invest in efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Fortunately, the UK is ahead of the curve on this front as well, and the country plans to have its first carbon capture and storage plant up and running in the next few years.