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Britain hits ‘significant milestone’ as renewables become main power source

Renewables, especially wind, generated 5.4TWh between January and March.

Renewables, especially wind, generated 5.4TWh between January and March.

In Q1 2020, renewables became Britain’s main power source for the first time ever, according to new analysis by EnAppSys.

Renewables hit a new milestone, generating 35.4TWh between January and March, more than fossil fuels combined. This also represents a significant increase from Q1 2019, when they produced 27.2TWh.

During this period 44.6% of total generation was produced by renewables, with the rest generated by gas-fired plants (29.1%), nuclear plants (15.3%), power imports (7.3%) and coal plants (3.7%).

This surge in renewable generation was largely due to weather conditions, as there was consistently high winds throughout the period. Output from wind farms was more than 10GW for 63% of the quarter, and more than 5GW for 85% of it.

Storms battered Britain at the beginning of 2020, bringing record breaking winds. Storm Ciara for example set two wind generation records, with wind turbines generating 56% of the country’s electricity at 2am on Saturday 8 February, the most at any one time, and accounting for 44.26% of power produced across the whole day.

The record breaking start to 2020 was aided by a recent drop off in demand, according to EnAppSys, caused by the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. However, as this was only brought in towards the end of the quarter, it is likely to have a larger impact on Q2.

Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, called Q1 a “significant milestone” for Britain’s power industry.

“With weather likely to return to more typical patterns in future quarters, the 45% of electricity generation from renewable sources in the quarter is likely to be a temporary high. However, given recent trends which show that renewables are becoming an increasingly dominant player in Britain’s power mix, the continued build of offshore wind farms and the resurgence in onshore wind should see these levels being achieved more often in the longer term.”

The amount of renewable generation on the system meant that not only was there more generation from renewables than gas, there was more than gas and coal-fired generation combined for a whole quarter. This is another first for the country according to EnAppSys.

In the short term, with reduced demand due to coronavirus, we can expect renewables to provide a significant amount of the country’s energy mix.

However, Verrill added that: “Whilst levels of generation from renewables have been on the rise, Britain’s other clean power source – nuclear – generated its smallest overall volume of generation since Q3 2008, producing 12.2TWh in the quarter as older reactors saw increased levels of downtime as they move towards the end of their operational life.

"Levels of nuclear generation are set to continue to decline as plants close, although this will be offset by increased levels of renewable and gas generation as well as any new nuclear builds.”

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