The UK reached a clean energy milestone in 2019, generating more of its energy from zero carbon sources than fossil fuels for the first time since the industrial revolution.
Figures from National Grid, which is responsible for balancing supply and demand in Britain’s electricity network, showed that almost half of the country’s energy came from non-polluting sources over the year.
Wind, solar, nuclear and hydro energy accounted for 48.5 per cent of the UK’s power generation, while fossil fuels made up 43 per cent. The remaining 8.5 per cent of electricity generated last year came from biomass and waste.
“As we enter a new decade, this truly is a historic moment and an opportunity to reflect on how much has been achieved,” said John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid.
Last year’s milestone was achieved partly through the rapid growth of renewables, but also because of a sharp decline in the use of coal power, which the UK once heavily relied upon.
Over the past decade, the UK has decarbonised its electricity system at the fastest pace of 25 major economies through a combination of factors, including subsidy schemes encouraging renewable energy use and a carbon tax paid by fossil fuel plants.
The country last year became the first big developed economy to adopt a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, underscoring growing concern among the British public over the effects of climate change.
In 1990, fossil fuels generated 75.5 per cent of the UK’s energy. At their peak in 2013, coal plants generated enough electricity to power 3m homes every year. In 2019, however, the country notched up its longest period without burning coal — a full 18 days, six hours and 10 minutes. By next summer only three coal-powered plants will remain after the government promised to stamp out their use by 2025.
Despite this clean energy achievement, analysts warn that significant challenges remain if the UK is to meet its target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Mark Carney, outgoing head of the Bank of England, earlier this week said that companies and investors needed to step up planning for climate change and warned that many corporate assets were at risk of becoming worthless. He added that businesses were not reporting in “any consistent way” on their transition plans.
Under Mr Carney, the Bank of England launched a stress test system to determine which companies and industries would be worst hit by the effects of a warming planet, the results of which will be published in 2021.