On 15 May 2023, the number of kilowatt hours of electricity generated in the UK from renewable sources hit 13 figures.
It took 50 years to reach this milestone, but according to the latest projections, the second trillion will take only five years. It brings the changes that have come about in the way we generate energy into sharp focus.
At the turn of the millennium, only about two percent of energy in the UK was generated from renewable sources. In 2013, this was up to almost 15 percent and two years later, Britain was one of the European leaders in the growth of renewable energy production, behind only the likes of Iceland and Norway, who have more mature renewable energy infrastructures in place.
The past couple of years have continued to set new records for renewable energy production. Reliance on coal production, in particular, has dropped off significantly. In 2022, it accounted for 1.5 percent of electricity versus about 40 percent just 10 years ago. Summer of 2020 saw all coal power stations powered down entirely for 67 days. That’s the longest coal-free streak in the UK since the 1700s!
Renewable energy contributors
Data from the National Grid shows that wind energy is by far the greatest contributor to renewable energy production. It produces more electricity than all other renewables put together and more than a quarter of all the electricity generated in the UK.
Renewables just part of the mix on the road to net zero
The increasing use of renewables is a vital component of the UK’s drive to eliminate carbon-based electricity generation by 2035 on the way to achieving complete net zero by 2050. To make this happen, we can expect to see the line in that top chart continue to ascend over the coming years. For example, plans are already in place to increase both wind output and solar capacity by a factor of 400 to 500 percent between now and 2030.
The aim is to generate at least 70 percent of the UK’s energy from renewables in 2030.
Remember, it is not necessary to hit 100 percent in order to meet the government’s 2035 and 2050 commitments, as there are other green energy sources such as nuclear and hydrogen that can be combined with renewables to keep forcing those carbon emissions down.
Nuclear currently contributes 15 percent of the UK’s electricity, and this will increase to 25 percent over the next ten years with the addition of as many as eight large nuclear plants, including Sizewell C, Wylfa and Hinkley Point C. The government is also supporting research into small modular reactors (SMRs) like those being developed by Rolls Royce.
The final component is from the Hydrogen Strategy. This really sees Hydrogen as the fuel of the future, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) predicts Hydrogen could meet about a third of the UK’s electricity demands by 2050. That seems ambitious right now, but not as ambitious as 40 percent from renewables would have seemed 20 years ago. These are exciting times, and we will monitor progress with interest.