Low-carbon generation hit a record high in Q3 2018, according to recent government figures. In total, 56% of electricity was sourced from a combination of renewables and nuclear power, an increase of 2% year-on-year. Increased capacity and favourable weather conditions meant that renewables contributed 33.1%, having remained consistently above 30% of the generation mix since Q2 2017.
A similar picture is being seen across EC countries, where renewables accounted for 38% of generation in April 2018, its highest level ever. This was attributed to a month of good hydro and wind generation in most of Europe (EC quarterly report on electricity markets).
A brief prepared for the recent COP24 UN climate change conference highlighted the sharply falling cost of solar, wind, and other renewable power options, as well as the growing viability of energy storage technologies. The result is that the business case for renewables is improving and, in some cases, can compete without subsidy.
UK statistics from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) also showed that coal generation declined year-on-year making up just 2.5% of the mix. However, it was noted that the rate of decrease slowed due to increased gas prices.
A combination of emission limits and carbon taxes have made coal plants uneconomic to run in recent years. Support mechanisms for renewables and an increase in gas supply have also contributed to coal becoming less competitive. Power output from coal has fallen from 30% of the generating mix in 2014 to 22% in 2015 and reached a record low of 2% in Q2 of 2017. Drax power station, previously the largest coal-fired power station the UK, has converted four of its six units to biomass and is on course to be coal-free by 2025.
The UK is committed to meeting carbon reduction targets under both domestic legislation and international agreements. Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and the decline in its usage has significantly reduced the carbon intensity of the power sector.
Gas generation was described by BEIS as “exceptionally low” in Q3 2018, which at 38.6% was 1.3% below Q2 2017. This was driven by a combination of higher renewable generation and rising gas prices.
Final electricity consumption was at a record low 68.9 TWh, which was 0.6% lower than in Q3 2017. This decrease was driven by a reduction in domestic consumption.