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Renewables trump fossil fuels in 2020 in UK

Electricity generation from renewables overtook fossil fuels in the UK for the first time in 2020, a new report from think tanks Ember and Agora Energiewende has found.

With coal power already near zero, fossil gas use was forced to a five-year low in 2020 by growth in wind power and below-average demand due to the societal adjustments to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While UK renewables production is dominated by wind, it still remains “overly reliant on risky bioenergy, which must be replaced with cleaner power to fully decarbonise the UK grid,” the report states.

A record 42 per cent of the UK’s electricity was generated by renewables in 2020, compared to 41 per cent by fossil fuels. This was mainly driven by an increase in wind power which accounted for a quarter (24 per cent) of the UK’s electricity in 2020, doubling its share since 2015 and up from 20 per cent in 2019.

The plummeting cost of wind power has been largely driving the construction of new facilities. Costs fell so low in 2020 that the government anticipates “negative subsidies” from wind operators, which will return some of the cash generated by the sale of electricity back to the taxpayer.

While wind showed impressive growth, solar and hydroelectric power were unchanged since last year, Ember said, making up only four and two per cent of the UK’s electricity production respectively. This is the second year running that solar has remained stagnant, which reflects the lack of a supportive policy environment for the technology, Ember said.

Bioenergy generated 12 per cent of the UK’s electricity in 2020, posting slight growth since 2019.

Coal generated just two per cent of the UK’s electricity in 2020, falling rapidly from 2015 when it delivered 23 per cent of the UK’s electricity. Despite this, gas remains the UK’s single largest power source, generating 37 per cent of UK electricity in 2020. Fossil gas fell 15 per cent from 2019 to 2020, with wind power taking 4 points off its share.  Although low demand due to Covid-19 made 2020 an unusual year, this shows that gas is now vulnerable to increasing renewable production.

Plans recently announced by the UK government to target 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 should ensure that the next decade sees further rapid declines in gas generation.

Renewables also overtook fossil fuels in the EU-27 overall in 2020.

 

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