UK Wind Power Overtakes Gas Capacity for the First Time in History
In the most recent data analysis presented in the Drax Electric Insights report by Imperial College London, a striking shift in the energy landscape has been unveiled. During the second quarter of this year, we witnessed a remarkable 23% nosedive in the output from gas power plants. This decline propelled fossil fuel emissions perilously close to historic lows.
That is the headline conclusion of the latest edition of the Drax Electric Insights report from Imperial College London, which also revealed how, for the first time, UK wind power capacity has surpassed fossil gas power capacity.
Delving deeper into the data, the report reveals a fascinating twist - the emergence of wind power as the new energy champion. In June alone, the installed wind capacity surged to an impressive 27.9GW, outshining the established gas generation capacity of 27.7GW. This monumental milestone underscores the growing influence of renewable energy sources in our energy landscape.
Moreover, it's not just wind power that's driving this transition. Record-breaking levels of solar energy output and increased imports through interconnectors further contributed to the decline in gas power generation, intensifying the shift towards cleaner energy sources.
As we navigate this transformative period, it's essential to acknowledge the environmental impact. Carbon emissions from electricity generation have plummeted to 10 million tonnes of CO2 in the second quarter of 2023. This figure has only been achieved once before - during the peak of the Covid-19 lockdowns. It's a testament to our remarkable strides in reducing our carbon footprint.
"Wind power is blowing away gas and coal from Britain's energy mix, and in just a decade, we've gone from relying completely on the polluting fuels of the past to embracing the clean energy technologies of the future," said Dr. Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, and lead author of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report series.
"The shift to wind as the largest power source by capacity is a clear sign of the progress we've made, showing countries around the world that they can decarbonise their power grids when government and industry works together."
Great Britain now has just one remaining coal-fired power station following Drax's decision earlier this year to permanently end fuel use at its plant in North Yorkshire as part of its efforts to switch to biomass and biomass energy with carbon capture and storage technologies.
"Cutting the UK's reliance on imported foreign gas and coal is critical to strengthening the country's national energy security and tackling climate change," said Penny Small, group generation director at Drax.
"At Drax, we believe the UK's next big focus should be on unlocking investment in technologies which permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere. That's why we are progressing plans to deploy Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology at scale in the UK and the US."
The resonance of the latest data reverberates with findings from the renowned think tank Ember just a month ago. Their analysis uncovered a 17% year-on-year drop in coal and gas generation across the European Union for the year's first half. This decline was driven by reduced overall energy demand and the surging competition from renewable energy sources.
Fossil fuels found themselves at an unprecedented low, constituting only 33% of the power mix. Meanwhile, solar and wind generation witnessed substantial upticks, rising by 13% and 4.8%, respectively. These statistics underline the transformative shift towards cleaner, more sustainable energy in the EU.
However, amidst this positive trajectory, concerns loom within the UK's renewables sector. Recent developments, such as the clean power auction's failure to secure bids from offshore wind developers and the government's reluctance to enact more ambitious planning reforms, have cast shadows over the sustainability of our progress. It's a reminder that while we've come far, there are still hurdles to overcome on the path to a greener energy future.
"It has been a mixed quarter for wind power," the Electric Insights report stated. "On the one hand, the UK's wind fleet reached 29GW of installed capacity, becoming the largest capacity of any type of power station. Britain joins the ranks of only five countries with wind capacity in the top spot, which marks an important milestone on the route to net zero.
"On the other hand, Vattenfall caused shockwaves through the industry by suspending its 1.4GW project off the coast of Norfolk due to escalating costs. This raises questions over the future of other offshore farms which committed to sell their output for just £37.50 per MWh back in 2022, as the recent increase in material and labour costs affect the whole sector."