UK renewables generate more energy than fossil fuels in 2020

In: Windfarms

The UK government issued its latest update on energy trends revealing that in 2020 generation from renewable sources increased year on year and for the first time exceeded the generation from fossil fuels.

Total electricity generated in 2020 was 313 TWh, 3.7 per cent less than in 2019, reflecting the lower demand for electricity during 2020. Generation from renewable sources reached 134 TWh in 2020, an increase of 11 per cent. In contrast, 2020 saw 50 TWh generation from nuclear and 121 TWh fossil fuels.

Renewable electricity generation was 34.4 TWh in Quarter 4 2020, an increase of 4.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. Nuclear generation fell by 8.0 per cent in Quarter 4 2020 to 14.4 TWh as outages continued at many of the UK’s nuclear plants. Generation from fossil fuel totalled 34.2 TWh, slightly lower than the generation from renewables and a decrease of 6.3 per cent compared to Quarter 4 2019.

Offshore wind generation increased by 16 per cent in response to both higher wind speeds and added capacity (0.4 GW, the largest new site being East Anglia 1). Onshore wind also saw added capacity (0.2 GW) but generation fell by 1.3 per cent, despite the higher wind speeds. Wind speeds vary across the UK and with 80 per cent of wind generation being in Scotland, this can dominate UK generation. Generation was also affected by several wind farms having to curtail their generation at times when supply exceeded demand.

Solar PV generation fell by 8.1 per cent with shorter sunlight hours more than offsetting a modest 1.6 per cent increase in capacity. Hydro generation increased 17 per cent, because of higher average rainfall.

This was the third quarter in 2020 in which the renewable generation exceeded the generation from fossil fuel, though the difference was smaller than in Quarters 1 and 2 of 2020. The high renewable generation was particularly driven by high generation from offshore wind, which generated 12.0 TWh in Quarter 4 2020, a 16 per cent increase on the previous year and in line with increased offshore capacity. In contrast, solar generation fell by 8.1 per cent in Quarter 4 2020, despite increased capacity, as solar generators were restricted by lower average daily sun hours than in Quarter 4 2019.

In total, renewable capacity grew by just 2.0 per cent during 2020, the lowest growth rate since at least 2010, compared with an average growth of almost 20 per cent during the preceding ten years. Some quarters saw no added capacity for certain technologies; in Q2, there was no increase for onshore wind and bioenergy and in quarters three and four there was no new offshore wind capacity, which had previously seen large increases. Although growth in onshore wind capacity had already fallen towards the end of 2019, it was still higher than in 2020 (574 MW added in 2019, compared with just 157 MW in 2020). New Solar PV capacity also slowed in 2020, though to a lesser extent, with 217 MW being added in 2020 compared with 273 MW in 2019. Although uncertain, COVID-19 restrictions may have caused delays in some projects.

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