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UK ranked sixth in the world for solar and wind generation

Solar set a new record for generation at 9.7GW in 2020. Image: Getty.

Solar set a new record for generation at 9.7GW in 2020. Image: Getty.

The UK has been ranked sixth in the world for solar and wind power generation, according to thinktank Ember's Global Electricity Review.

Around the world, the renewable technologies produced 2,435TWh in 2020, or almost a tenth of the world’s electricity. As such they’ve doubled since 2015, when they generated 1083TWh or 5% of the world’s electricity.

Denmark topped the rankings, producing 61% of its electricity from the renewables, followed by Uruguay at 44%.

The UK fell into a group that were able to produce around a third of their electricity from wind and solar, coming in at 29%, along with Ireland (35%), Germany (33%) and Spain (29%). While the majority of Ember's list of the top 15 countries are in Europe, Australia and South American countries, Uruguay and Chile also made the list.

National Grid ESO has previously hailed 2020 as Britain’s greenest ever year, with solar and wind energy repeatedly smashing records throughout.

Ember found that electricity demand globally fell for the first time since 2009 due to the pandemic, although only slightly at -0.1%. In the UK, the drop in demand was keenly felt during the first COVID-19 lockdown hitting an all-time low of just 13.8GW in May.

Wind and solar generation have showed great resiliency though, with generation from the technologies rising by 15% in 2020. As they grow, coal is increasingly being pushed off grids, with a fall of -4% or -346TWh of coal generation last year.

In Britain, coal produced just 1.6% of the electricity mix in 2020, and the grid ran without the fossil fuel for a record 68 days. The deadline for unabated coal coming off the grid entirely was recently moved forward to 2024.

But emissions globally still rose, and were 2% higher than in 2015. This is largely due to coal generation falling just 0.8% over the last five years, while gas rose 11%.

“Progress is nowhere near fast enough. Despite coal’s record drop during the pandemic, it still fell short of what is needed,” said Dave Jones, global programme lead at Ember.

“Coal power needs to collapse by 80% by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming above 1.5 degrees. We need to build enough clean electricity to simultaneously replace coal and electrify the global economy. World leaders have yet to wake up to the enormity of the challenge.”

Britain’s electricity system is currently on track to be powered solely by zero carbon sources for periods of time by 2025, National Grid ESO announced in June. This will be a key milestone for a zero carbon electricity system by 2035, the target laid out in the sixth carbon budget.

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