2017 has been an important year for renewable energy sources, with more than 50% of the UK’s power produced by nuclear or renewable methods for the first time.
A number of important records were broken, including significant advances for wind power, monthly production records, and the first day in the modern era that the National Grid did not carry electricity produced from coal. WWF, the ecological NGO, charted 13 separate positive records.
According to analysis by Carbon Brief, gas’ 40% share means that it continues to be the largest single source of energy nationwide and by far the largest fossil fuel output, despite a 7% drop from 2016. In comparison, coal made up only 7% of 2017 production, mostly due to increased taxes on carbon production and output, as well as the closure of three coal-fired plants as a commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Fossil fuels made up 47.5% of the energy produced last year, a significant decrease from 2010, when they accounted for 75.4% of the total. Carbon Brief charts wind as the most improved source, with a 31% increase in production over the course of the year, and outperforming coal on 302 days of the year. This makes wind the strongest performing fully-renewable source, with only gas and nuclear producing more individually.
Nuclear production has essentially stagnated over the last decade or two, with annual changes no more than a handful of percentage points. However, the current nuclear system is due for closure in the 2020s, with setbacks for potential replacement schemes and financial worries over current projects.
However, there are still significant worries concerning the UK’s ability to continue such progress, especially regarding the reliance on gas and the impact that may have on meeting carbon targets (BBC). The UK has committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 57% of 1990 levels, a legally binding limit imposed at both national and international levels. Gas and coal will inevitably be the sectors that are hit hardest, as these limits include capping gas production at 25% of the national total by 2030, as well as the total closure of all coal-producing plants.
Overall, the general trend seems to be favouring renewable energy sources, and this looks likely to continue in 2018 with increasingly efficient and economic methods of production in fields such as wind and solar making them worthwhile markets for investors and a government aiming to hit emissions targets.
Looking at the bigger picture, WWF has concluded that these advances have made the UK the 4th cleanest power system in Europe, and the 7th in the World. In a survey, they also found that 82% of the British public supported green energy, a vital contribution if similar records are to be broken against in 2018. Similarly, the Government sees green energy as a vibrant economic and political sector, with Prime Minister Theresa May tweeting that the “UK is leading the world in clean growth, reducing emissions faster than any other G7 country.”