Renewables rise to new record as overall electricity generation falls

A third of the UK’s electricity came from renewables in 2018 as overall power generation fell to its lowest levels since 1994, analysis shows.

Wind accounted for 17% of the total power generated last year, while solar contributed 4% and burning plant material or biomass for electricity produced 11%, the analysis by climate and energy website Carbon Brief reveals.

With nuclear power supplying just under a fifth of the total and renewables overall generating a record 33%, low carbon power sources accounted for more than half (53%) of UK electricity generation in 2018.

Despite fears of a rebound in burning coal for power in the face of high wholesale gas prices, the most polluting fossil fuel saw further declines in 2018, down to a record low of just 5% of the total.

Gas was also down, to 39%, as fossil fuels fell to their lowest ever share of the mix, according to the Carbon Brief analysis which is based on data from the Business Department, BM Reports and Sheffield Solar.

Overall electricity generation was an estimated 335 terrawatt hours, the lowest level since 1994 and down 16% from its peak in 2005.

The amount of electricity generated per person has fallen to its lowest levels since 1984, and is down almost a quarter (24%) since 2005.

If the amount of power generated per person had stayed at 2005 levels, as the population grew, the UK would need the equivalent of four extra Hinkley Point C nuclear power plants, the analysis suggests.

The reduction in UK electricity generation is down to various factors, including more energy efficient appliances and lighting and a shift away from energy-intensive industry to high-value manufacturing and services.

The figures do not include electricity imports, which are at a similar level to what they were in the 1990s, but are higher than in the 2000s, Carbon Brief said.

Industry body RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Maf Smith said there had been an astonishing increase in the amount of electricity from wind in 2018 as costs dropped rapidly and technology advanced.

“A record one-third of the UK’s electricity is now coming from renewables, and fossil fuels are continuing to decline.

“This is one of the best examples of our country taking real action against climate change and we can all be proud of it.”

Trade group Energy UK’s chief executive Lawrence Slade said the figures underlined how much the industry had transformed itself in recent years by moving to cleaner, low carbon sources of power.

“We need to maintain and accelerate this progress, so it is vital the cheapest forms of renewables like solar and onshore wind can contribute fully to our decarbonisation drive without further delay,” he said.

“The analysis also shows what an important role energy efficiency can play in reducing demand and therefore both tackling emissions and cutting costs to customers – which underlines why we are calling for the Government to roll out a National Energy Efficiency Programme across the UK for domestic and non-domestic premises.”

Energy minister Claire Perry said: “This Government’s decision to put the move to greener, cleaner energy at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy is truly paying off, with these figures showing a record year for renewables and electricity generated from low-carbon sources.

“We are investing more than £2.5 billion in low carbon innovation by 2021, helping this booming market to thrive, creating jobs, delivering clean energy and tackling climate change.”