For the very first time, the UK produced more electricity with wind power than nuclear energy across the first three months of 2018.
Inspirational, right? But it's far from the whole picture.
Wind power produced 18.8% of all electricity in the first quarter of 2018, according to a gorgeously visualised report from researchers at Imperial College London. It even peaked at a record-breaking 47.3% on March 13 as the Beast from the East superstorm battered Britain. Wind had to team up with solar energy to beat nuclear in the last quarter of 2017, but now can claim a solo victory, producing 30 GWh (Gigawatt Hours) more than nuclear.
It comes after two nuclear plants went offline for maintenance at the start of the year, and another was shut after seaweed found its way into the cooling system, according to the Guardian.
It’s a really big deal: it shows the incredible potential of British wind energy in the midst of sobering setbacks in the international consensus that, actually, climate change really is quite a pressing problem.
“There’s no sign of a limit to what we’re able to do with wind in the near future,” said Dr. Rob Gross, an author of the report.
In the first quarter of 2018, only gas beat wind power in electricity produced — all while the UK keeps breaking its own records for time passed without using coal. Amazing, right? The truthful answer is, sort of.
Low-carbon energy sources are providing 56.3% of GB electricity (nuclear 18.7%, solar 18.2%, wind 13.4%, biomass 5.2%, hydro 0.8%), national demand 35.5 GW— National Grid Control Room (@NGControlRoom) May 14, 2018
While this is excellent progress, British investment in green energy fell by 56% last year — a drop in funding worse than any other country on the planet, and higher than the decline across the whole of Europe.
And it’s all down to changes in government policy, according to experts.
Despite building a record number of wind farms in 2017, Britain quietly banned subsidies on all new onshore wind farms because of concerns about blights on the country landscape. Now, the Treasury says there will be no subsidies on any green power projects — including solar and tidal — until at least 2025.
Moreover, the UK government lost millions after selling the Green Investment Bank too cheap, according to the National Audit Office; ditched the Zero Carbon Homes policy; and stopped the Carbon Capture & Storage competition, worth £1 billion, says the BBC.
Annual clean energy investment in the UK is now the lowest it has been since 2008 and the rate at which we are installing new renewable capacity is slowing. Read our report here: https://t.co/OQdV8kvm9Apic.twitter.com/Snf7zfc6RK— Environmental Audit Committee (@CommonsEAC) May 16, 2018
The cost of renewable energy is lower than ever, reportedly offsetting some of the decline. But instead of using it as an opportunity to invest, industry experts have warned that growth installing new capacity is slowing dramatically. Two parliamentary committees, plus a number of MPs, criticised the government on Wednesday, and warned that climate change targets were at risk — including those set out by the Paris agreement to keep global temperatures "well below" 2 degrees Celsius.
The MPs also said the government was failing to deliver on policies to cut emissions from transport, heating, and industry — and called on them to create a "sovereign green bond" to increase investment, in a similar vein to Poland and Belgium.
"Billions of pounds of investment is needed in clean energy, transport, heating, and industry to meet our carbon targets,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee. “But a dramatic fall in investment is threatening the government's ability to meet targets. The government must urgently plug this policy gap and publish its plan to secure the investment required.”
"The UK is a world-leader in cutting emissions, with 50% of our electricity coming from low-carbon sources and recently going 72 hours without burning coal,” said a spokesperson for the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. "We're committed to meeting our climate change targets and will have invested £2.5 billion on low carbon innovations by 2021."
There are reasons to feel both hopeful and cautious. Worldwide investment into renewables is growing all the time, climbing 3% to £242.4 billion in 2017 — the second highest ever. The UK is continuing to break records on wind, solar, and coal for now. But for the future to look as green as we’d like, far more investment will be needed.
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