Renewable Energy Has Overtaken Fossil Fuels in the UK

This milestone would have been unthinkable just a few years ago

Wind turbines in the fields of Rye, Sussex (Altitude Drone /

Renewable energy in the UK has tripled in the past five years and for the first time, has overtaken the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels. This green milestone is certainly something to be celebrated.

The decline of the use of fossil fuels occurred because of a "perfect storm" of conditions. One-third of fossil fuel generating capacity has been retired over the last five years. Coal operators are now paying a carbon tax on electrical generation as well as stiff competition from natural gas. In the past year, coal capacity has fallen by 25 percent and there are only six coal-fed plants left in the UK.

Increased costs of maintaining the fossil fuel systems have also led to their demise according to research the Imperial College London did for Drax Power. The cost of the energy system rose to a 10-year high of £3.8m. Dr. Iain Staffel who ran the study said, "The cost of balancing the system has doubled in the last four years." One of the major reasons why was an 18 percent increase caused by the currency devaluation associated with Brexit.

On the plus side, the capacity from wind, solar, biomass and other renewables have tripled. Wind farms provide the largest share of capacity with more than 20GW. The UK now comprises 45 percent of all the world's wind power.

Solar power provides over 13GW and there are close to a million rooftop solar power systems across the country that contribute to this capacity.

Biomass is also a factor in this changeover from fossil fuels with 3.2GW capacity. There are two coal to biomass power plant conversions being completed this year that will add an additional 1GW total capacity.

If you add in nuclear power, 57 percent of electrical generation was low carbon. Even more renewable energy is necessary to meet the country's climate change targets of up to 85 percent by 2050. “More renewables are crucial for reducing carbon emissions and helping us to meet our climate targets – but flexible, lower carbon generation, is also clearly vital for controlling the costs of maintaining a stable, low carbon power system," said Any Koss the CEO of Drax Power.

Staffel said, "Britain’s power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and this quarter saw a major milestone on the journey.”

This achievement was unthinkable a few years ago. It looks like the UK is well on its way to meeting the 2050 goal and if this rush to renewables continues it may even be exceeded.

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