Renewable power generation in the UK reached a record high in 2018, while electricity generated from fossil fuels fell to a record low, underscoring the energy transition under way in the world’s sixth-largest economy.
Total electricity generation in the UK reached a 25-year low last year, because of economic restructuring and more energy efficient appliances and lighting, according to a new analysis from Carbon Brief, a climate research and news site.
The UK has slashed its carbon emissions by more than 43 per cent since 1990 through a combination of cleaner power and lower overall demand for electricity, although it is still not on track to meet legally binding emissions targets.
Last year, UK electricity generation declined 1 per cent, reaching its lowest levels since 1994 because of reduced demand, mild weather, and slightly higher electricity imports, according to the analysis, which draws on UK government data.
Simon Evans, deputy editor at Carbon Brief and the author of the study, said the decline in electricity demand during a period of economic growth was “quite significant”.
The lower demand was as a result of efficiency improvements in appliances and lighting, for both residential and industrial consumers, he added.
“The UK has been doing really well recently in cutting carbon dioxide emissions because of cleaner electricity supplies and using less electricity,” he said. “That contributed the lion’s share in improvements in UK carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade.”
If per capita electricity consumption had remained at the same levels as 2005, the additional power demand would be equivalent to four Hinkley C nuclear power stations, he said.
Growth in the use of renewables also continued last year, rising to 33 per cent of electricity generation, compared with 29 per cent the year before.
Meanwhile fossil fuels fell to 46 per cent of power generation last year, compared with 49 per cent in the previous year. Power generation from coal plummeted by one-quarter in 2018 compared with 2017.
2017 was the first year in which low-carbon power sources — including nuclear — surpassed fossil fuels as the UK’s biggest source of electricity, marking a major milestone in the decarbonisation of the UK energy sector.
In 2018, there was a string of “coal free” days in 2018, when coal-fired power generation dropped to zero, partly because of the windy and warm summer. Coal provided just 5 per cent of UK power last year, down from more than a third in 2013.
Despite these trends the UK is still not on track to meet its legally binding carbon target during the 2023-2027 period, known as the fourth carbon budget, according to the Committee on Climate Change, the independent panel that advises the government on emissions policy.
While the country has successfully reduced its emissions from electricity, there has not been enough progress in reducing emissions from heating and transportation to meet the targets, the committee warned in a report late last year.