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Low carbon energy installations stalled in 2019

Image: Carbon Brief.

Image: Carbon Brief.

Low carbon energy stalled in 2019 with just 1TWh of generation added, according to new analysis by Carbon Brief.

The analysis showed a disappointing increase of just 0.6% last year, after steady years of growth that saw low carbon generation nearly double since 2010, with 85TWh added.

Renewables increased by 10% in 2019, but this was offset by a drop in nuclear power of 9% due to ongoing outages at Hunterston and Dungeness.

Overall, electricity generation in the UK fell by 3%, a drop of 9TWh, which included another significant drop in coal generation. The fossil fuel fell by a further 60% in 2019, amounting to a drop of 94% since 2010. This is equivalent to 10TWh last year, and 101TWh over the last nine years.

Fossil fuel generation capacity meanwhile is ending the decade at half 2010 levels having fallen by 148TWh, or 51%. This was helped by a reduction of 9TWh, or 6% in 2019. Gas rose by 1TWh in 2019, but it still fell by 25% over the decade.

Image: Carbon Brief.
Image: Carbon Brief.

Currently, the UK is targeting a reduction in carbon intensity from electricity generation that will bring it down to 100gCO2/kWh by 2030. To achieve this, based on Carbon Briefs analysis, it must increase its low carbon generation by three fifths, a huge undertaking that would require an increase in generation from 176TWh in 2019 to 276TWh in 2030.

In addition to this, as more nuclear plants retire, even more low carbon generation will be necessary. Both Hunterston and Dungeness will retire soon, cutting low carbon generation by 50-60TWh. While Hinkley C nuclear plant will help to replace this, it will only be able to meet 40-50% of this reduction.

The new Conservative government is targeting 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 to help meet this shortfall, but Carbon Brief has warned that this is “not certain to be sufficient” to meet carbon intensity targets without support for other renewables and new nuclear.

Energy UK’s interim chief executive Audrey Gallacher said that the figures were a “stark reminder of how much further and faster we need to go”.

“The amount of low carbon power produced has doubled over the last decade but we need to go above and beyond that to keep pace with our climate change targets, especially with overall demand set to increase - rather than falling as it has done in recent years.

“This underlines the urgency of increasing all forms of low carbon generation – and why we need to see Energy White Paper as soon as possible with action and policies that can enable the required investment and innovation to make this happen.”

Image: Carbon Brief.
Image: Carbon Brief.

There were a number of important milestone hit in 2019, with renewables outdoing fossil fuels on 137 days, as well as there being 83 days when there was no coal in the electricity mix at all. These are both significant as the first day when renewables outpaced fossil fuels was just in 2015, and the first without coal was in 2017.

A spokesperson for BEIS added: “These figures demonstrate just how far we’ve come. Generation from low carbon sources has doubled over the last decade and between July – September last year renewables produced nearly 40% of our electricity – a new record.

“We have cut our emissions by over 40% since 1990 but plan to go further, faster, backed up by an average of £9 billion of investment in renewables annually as we aim to eliminate our contribution to climate change.”

According to statistics produced by National Grid, 2019 also saw more power coming from low carbon sources throughout the year than fossil fuels for the first ever time.

Unlike the National Grid statistics, Carbon Briefs analysis looks at the whole of the UK and excludes imports. Instead, it uses data from BM Reports and quarterly figures from BEIS for the first three-quarters of the year.


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