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2017 was UK’s ‘greenest on record’, but further decarbonisation necessary

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The UK’s clean energy generators continued to break records in the final throes of 2017 but the industry has issued warnings against complacency.

Statistics released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the week before Christmas revealed that renewables accounted for 30% of electricity generation in Q3 2017, up nearly five percentage points year-on-year.

This, the department said, was down to increased renewable capacity and availability which outweighed less favourable weather conditions.

While it failed to beat Q2 2017’s record of 30.7%, renewables’ performance in Q3 contributed significantly towards what turned out to be a stellar year for low carbon power generation.

Clean energy utility Bulb went one further and claimed that 2017 stood to be the UK’s “greenest year on record”.

It extrapolated renewables’ performance in the first two quarters of 2017 to find that more than 100TWh of renewable electricity had been supplied to UK homes last year, equivalent to around one-third of all power supplied in the country.

Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said the Q3 statistics were “yet another nail in the coffin” for the pretence that renewables cannot provide a significant portion of the UK’s electricity demand.

“Initial fears that high levels of variable output over short time periods could destabilise the national grid have been proven wrong, and now similar concerns over the integration of longer periods of renewable output have also been shown to hold no weight.

“As the technology to integrate more wind and solar improves, these headline figures are set to become more and more frequent. At the same time, record low prices for new renewables will bring bills down for British homes and businesses, on top of maintaining the UK’s leading position in the global battle against climate change,” he said.

Bulb co-founder Hayden Wood added that his company’s projections were evidence of the “exciting transformation of Britain’s energy sector”.

Carbon intensity continues to fall

Meanwhile separate statistics compiled by electricity generation monitors MyGridGB highlighted the rise and prominence of low carbon power in 2017 at the expense of coal.

MyGridGB found that in 2017 coal’s share of power generation stood at just 7%. Nuclear produced 22.7%, wind 11.6%, biomass 5%, solar 3.6% and hydro and storage 2.3%.

This contributed towards an 8% fall in the UK’s electricity carbon intensity year-on-year, falling to 275gCO2/kWh. Further analysis revealed that the carbon intensity slumped to as low as 226gCO2/kWh in June last year, however this continues to be someway off the 100gCO2/kWh target set for 2030.

New figures published by BEIS today within its updated energy and emissions projections revealed that while greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector are forecast to halve between 2015 and 2020, more needs to be achieved if the country is to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets on a non-cumulative basis.

Today’s dataset states that even with policies outlined in last year’s Clean Growth Strategy, the UK is set to meet 97% of emission reductions stipulated in the fourth carbon budget and 95% of the fifth carbon budget.

This is a topic that has been the subject of much debate with climate change minister Claire Perry defending the government’s proposed use of flexibilities – such as overperformance in previous budgets carried over to contribute towards future periods or the purchase of carbon credits from other countries – to count towards future budgets.

In October the government’s own climate watchdog the Committee on Climate Change condemned the use of flexibilities. CCC chairman Lord Deben said that any use of flexibilities should “not be the plan”.

“The clear intention of the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets is that they are delivered through domestic action to keep the UK on the lowest cost path to the 2050 target to reduce emissions by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels. That should be the goal, without the use of accounting flexibilities or reliance on international carbon credits,” he said at the time.

The CCC is due to publish its official response to the government’s Clean Growth Strategy later this month. 

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