UK generates more electricity from renewable sources than fossil fuels for first time as it gets closer to closing all coal plants

From July through September, renewable sources produced 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh) electricity, compared to the 29.1TWh from fossil fuels.


                            UK generates more electricity from renewable sources than fossil fuels for first time as it gets closer to closing all coal plants

While the US produces about 17% of its total electricity from renewable energy sources, the UK has been doing better. They have been banking on renewable sources of energy -- wind farms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants -- to meet more than half of their electricity demands. While doing so, the country is inching closer towards closing down their coal plants by 2025, a report from Carbon Brief finds.

From July through September, renewable energy consumption for electricity generation in the UK has managed to beat fossil fuels consumption: renewable sources produced 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh) electricity, compared to the 29.1TWh from fossil fuels.

Earlier, in 2008, fossile fuels powered four-fifths of UK's electricity needs. It was adding 495 grammes of CO2 to the atmosphere for each kilowatt hour of electricity it generated, according to the report.

The country has halved its fossil fuel consumption for producing electricity since then, from 288TWh down to 142TWh, in the most recent 12-month period.

Achieving this feat was made possible, thanks to the government's changes in policy. From deciding to shut coal production down by 2025 to decarbonizing the grid by 2030, the UK has been serious about its goals. Many coal plants are already in the process of being phased out. The report estimates that by 2020, the UK will have only four functioning coal plants. And, in the current scenario, running the ageing plants -- built in the 1960s and 1970s -- is becoming increasingly moot. Adding to this are other factors such as carbon dioxide prices, market forces and pollution rules, making them uneconomical.

Six percent of UK electricity comes from solar (Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Policy changes also meant an increase in renewable energy plants. Buoyed by the sprouting of 552 larger renewable sites and another 3,150 small installations, including 2,400 solar rooftops, UK could shift towards renewable energy for its electricity needs. Now, the country produces only 39 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas; the remaining 40 percent comes from renewable sources and 19 percent form Nuclear energy.

Though these trends are encouraging, there are issues. Of the 40 percent renewable energy, UK generated two-thirds of its electricity from plant biomass. According to the report, the Committee on Climate Change, an independent public body, advised the country to “move away” from large-scale biomass power plants. Burning biomass, they say, could release carbon into the atmosphere, and in some circumstances, lead to higher emissions than from fossil fuels.

The report highlights another issue: the UK may not be able to reach the target of cutting emissions to net-zero by 2050, a target that it set for itself in June this year.

"The UK is unlikely to meet its legally binding goal of cutting overall emissions to net-zero by 2050, unless progress in the electricity sector is matched by reductions in other parts of the UK economy, such as heating and transport," the Carbon Brief analysis report warns.

The same was found by a Science and Technology Select Committee, whose report in August said the UK will miss its legally binding net-zero 2050 target with “dire consequences” unless climate policies are rapidly implemented.

Committee chairman Norman Lamb said then the country was not on track to meet its goals by 2030s, let alone net zero by 2050.

“Throughout our inquiry, it was worrying to hear that although the government may be ambitious when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, it is not putting the policies in place which are needed to achieve those targets. We need to see the government put its words into actions,” he said.

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