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Renewables accounted for 40% of UK generation in 2021 as demand rebounded from pandemic lows

2021 saw the second highest share of renewables in the UK's electricity mix ever. Image: Getty.

2021 saw the second highest share of renewables in the UK's electricity mix ever. Image: Getty.

Renewables accounted for 40% of the UK’s electricity generation in 2021, according to new figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES).

This is the second highest share, down 3.6 percentage points compared to 2020 to 39.6% as unfavourable weather impacted solar and wind generation. This brought its share below fossil fuels – which accounted for 42.6% - contrasting the previous year.

De-rated generation capacity rose 1% in 2021, up from 75.9GW in 2020. Renewable energy capacity increased 3.2% to 23.2GW, while fossil fuel and nuclear capacity remained unchanged at 42.5GW and 8.1GW respectively.

Generation overall fell to a record low of 308.7TWh, 1.2% less than in 2020. Demand rose with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and colder weather however, hitting 334.2TWh, up by 1.2% from 2020.

As such, Britain lent more heavily on imports, with total net imports of 7.4% or 24.6TWh. Total imports were 28.7TWh in 2021, up 28.4% on 2020, while exports were down 7% to 4.2TWh.

In 2021, interconnector capacity rose to 7.4GW with the North Sea Link connecting the UK and Norway and a second link to France, the IFA2, going live.

This contrasts with some of the trends seen in the first half of 2022, with Britain actually becoming a net exporter for the first time in Q2 due to a number of factors including nuclear outages in France.

Along with DUKES, the government has released new statistics looking at UK energy trends in Q1 2022, which show that cheaper renewables are meeting the shortfall in generation this year. Wind and solar generation were up 4.3% in Q1 2022 compared with Q1 2021.

“For every megawatt of renewable power this winter, that's basically a megawatt less of gas power we have to source and pay for,” said Jess Ralston, senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

“This trend is only set to continue with recently commissioned wind projects four times cheaper than current gas and new farms coming online every year. This will protect us from gas price shocks in the long term particularly as the North Sea is a declining basin and fracking is so unpopular with voters.”

Image: Energy Trends, BEIS
Image: Energy Trends, BEIS

ECIU highlighted that gas prices are currently six times more expensive than they were at this point in 2021, adding at least £2,000 to the average householder's bill this year.

Online offshore wind projects are now three times cheaper than gas generation, while the latest Contracts for Difference auctions saw prices around five times less than the current gas price.

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