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Why does it matter to save energy?

2017 hailed as 'greenest ever' for UK electricity

Solar arrayA 10% rise in output of solar-generated electricity helped to make 2017 a record-breaking year for renewables in the UK. Image courtesy of MEB Total Ltd.

A string of records for low-carbon electricity generation in the UK was broken in 2017 according to analysis of data by Simon Evans of the website CarbonBrief. For the first time, renewables and nuclear combined accounted for more than half of all power produced, overtaking fossil fuels for the year as a whole. Wind turbines alone generated more than twice the electricity derived from coal, and the year saw the first 24-hour periods without coal generation since the 1880s, on 21 April, and again for two days in October!

'Amazing year' for renewables

'Low-carbon' sources, including nuclear, bioenergy, solar, wind and hydropower, yielded 50% of all electricity, whereas fossil fuels, primarily gas, coal and oil, generated 47.5%; the remainder was from 'other' sources including nonrenewable wastes and pumped hydro storage. The figures mean that the UK has halved its carbon emissions from electricity generation since 2012, making it number four in the European clean power chart, and seventh cleanest in the world. Wind farm

Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Energy and Climate Change at WWF, welcomed the news: "2017 has been an amazing year for renewable electricity in Britain; we have never been cleaner or greener - and we are on course for an even better year in 2018."

Wind power in 2017 recorded a 31% increase over 2016, thanks to increased capacity and more favourable wind speeds.

No room for complacency

The switch from coal to gas plus the rise in renewables and falling demand explains the fall in carbon intensity of the UK's electricity: down from 508 gCO2/kWh in 2012 to 237 gCO2/kWh in 2017. However, there is no room for complacency, since gas is still the largest single fuel used for electricity generation. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) reckons that the target should be 100 gCO2/kWh by 2030, which means radical reduction in reliance on gas, from 40% to 25%. Moreover, cuts in emissions across other sectors are urgently needed if the UK is to meet its carbon reduction targets, according to the CCC.

Nuclear power remains the single largest source of 'low-carbon' power in the UK, although output has Sizewell reactorremained flat since the early 2000s.

Renewables records broken

The WWF website lists some of the records surpassed in 2017; these include:

  • Longest period without coal generation was 40 hours and 35 minutes on 28-29 October
  • Lowest momentary carbon intensity was 73 gCO2/kWh, reached on 2 October
  • Largest momentary amount of electricity ever produced from renewables - 19.2 gigawatts (GW) on 21 March
  • Greatest momentary amount of solar electricity ever generated, representing a quarter of Britain's energy supply - 8.9 GW on 26 May
  • Most wind power generated in a single day - 285 gigawatt hours (GWh) on 7 December