In 2023, the combined forces of wind, solar, and hydropower sources surged, generating an electrifying revelation: they produced an astounding surplus of electricity, enough to illuminate the homes of all 28 million households across the United Kingdom. This remarkable achievement comes to light through an in-depth analysis unveiled by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).
The versatile armada of offshore and onshore wind turbines and the radiant prowess of solar farms and hydrogen electricity generators orchestrated an awe-inspiring 90 terawatt hours (90TWh) of electrical energy throughout the entire calendar year of 2023. In stark contrast, the dominance of fossil gas-fired power plants continued its steady descent, marking a significant shift in the energy landscape.
While the renewable energy surge succeeded in catering to the residential needs of the entire nation, the industrial and commercial sectors still thirst for more. However, the data underscores an undeniable truth: the ascendancy of renewable power generation in the UK remained unbroken throughout the past year, steadily rising in each quarter compared to 2019.
In sharp contrast, gas power generation witnessed a notable decline, with each quarter experiencing a substantial 20-30 percent drop compared to its counterpart from four years ago. Concurrently, power generation from alternative sources, including biomass and combined heat and power, followed suit, reporting a decrease, as indicated by ECIU.
Nevertheless, it's worth noting that the UK, despite these strides, remains ensnared by its reliance on fossil gas, a dependency that eclipses all of Europe. A staggering 40 percent of Britain's electricity and 85 percent of home heating still draw from fossil gas, despite the soaring prices catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
This energy paradigm, coupled with the UK's distinction as possessing one of the least energy-efficient housing stocks in Western Europe, has left households across the nation grappling with the harsh realities of surging energy costs. These hardships are well-documented by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The UK anticipates grappling with persistently high energy costs in the foreseeable future, with the energy price cap poised for a slight uptick starting January 2023. In just two years, average energy bills have skyrocketed by 50 percent.
The ECIU reiterates that a concerted effort to bolster renewable energy generation, reduce the country's reliance on gas for electricity and heating, and enhance household energy efficiency can serve as powerful remedies to alleviate the energy burden both residences and businesses face. As an illustrative example, consider this: generating the same 90TWh of electricity from gas power stations that wind, solar, and hydro provided last year would necessitate over 180TWh of pricier and riskier fossil gas—a quantity equivalent to heating 20 million UK homes.
"Every turn of an offshore wind turbine's blades reduces our dependence on gas," said ECIU's head of energy, Jess Ralston. "As the North Sea continues its inevitable decline, we'll need to import ever greater quantities of gas, undermining our energy independence. The choice for the UK is stark. Boost British renewables or import more gas at a price we can't control."