Quantcast

Britain Achieves the 'Unthinkable' as Renewables Leapfrog Fossil Fuel Capacity

Renewable Energy
The Walney offshore windfarm. David Dixon / CC BY-SA 2.0

Britain's electricity grid hit a "major milestone," as its total renewable electricity capacity leapfrogged fossil fuels for the first time, experts revealed Tuesday.

The total available capacity from wind, solar, biomass, hydro and other renewables reached a record 42 gigawatts between July and September, overtaking the 40.6 gigawatts available from fossil fuels, according to a report commissioned by Drax's Electric Insights and produced by Imperial College London researchers.


Such an achievement "would have been unthinkable just a few years ago," Iain Staffell of Imperial College London wrote about the new findings.

Over the past five years, the capacity from renewables has tripled while a third of fossil fuel generating capacity has retired, the Electric Insights report said.

Here are some other key findings of the report:

  • Wind farms provide the biggest share of renewable capacity on the system, with more than 20 gigawatts available.
  • Solar comes in second providing more than 13 gigawatts.
  • Biomass is third, with 3.2 gigawatts.

The rollout of renewables has also eclipsed the so-called "dash for gas" in the 1990s, Staffell noted. An average of 3.8 gigawatts of new renewable capacity was added in Britain each year, compared to 2.4 gigawatts of natural gas at its peak.

"Britain's power system is slowly but surely walking away from fossil fuels, and this quarter saw a major milestone on the journey," Staffell wrote.

The UK has a target of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2050. Coal, which was once king in Britain, will be phased out by 2025 under government plans.

"The fall in fossil capacity has come mostly from coal plants retiring. A quarter of the country's coal capacity has retired in the last year, leaving just six generators in the country," Staffell explained.

Meanwhile, investment in renewable energy has ramped up in recent years, including the recent opening of the 659-megawatt Walney Extension—the world's largest offshore wind farm—off the coast of Cumbria, England.

"However," Staffell noted, "unabated gas capacity will remain for the next few decades, and may soon increase as a new gas power stations are being developed in Keadby, Lincolnshire and on the site of the recently-closed Eggborough coal power station in Yorkshire. Similarly, small gas and diesel reciprocating engines are appearing throughout the country, as a cheap (but polluting) supplier of peak capacity and balancing services."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new study shows that half of all Arctic warming and corresponding sea-loss during the late 20th century was caused by ozone-depleting substances. Here, icebergs discharged from Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier. Kevin Krajick / Earth Institute / EurekAlert!

The world awakened to the hole in the ozone layer in 1985, which scientists attributed it to ozone depleting substances. Two years later, in Montreal, the world agreed to ban the halogen compounds causing the massive hole over Antarctica. Research now shows that those chemicals didn't just cut a hole in the ozone layer, they also warmed up the Arctic.

Read More
Diane Wilson holds up a bag full of nurdles she collected from one of Formosa's outfall areas on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog

By Julie Dermansky

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.

After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa in 2017, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.

Read More
Sponsored

By Simon Coghlan and Kobi Leins

A remarkable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the world's first "living robots."

Read More
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin (front 2nd L) and officials inspect a container containing plastic waste shipment on Jan. 20, 2020 before sending back to the countries of origin. AFP via Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country Malaysia has sent 150 shipping containers packed with plastic waste back to 13 wealthy countries, putting the world on notice that it will not be the world's garbage dump, as CNN reported. The countries receiving their trash back include the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada.

Read More
Trump leaves after delivering a speech at the Congress Centre during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Jan. 21, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed the concerns of environmental activists as "pessimism" in a speech to political and business leaders at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday.

Read More