The UK has reached a “major milestone” in its decarbonisation of the power sector, having witnessed renewables capacity exceed that of fossil fuel generation.
The statistic has been reported by Drax’s latest quarterly Electric Insights for Q3 2018. Figures compiled by Imperial College London’s Dr Iain Staffell placed renewables generation capacity at 41.9GW, with fossil fuels having slumped to 41.2GW.
Such a moment had been looming for some time, triggered by significant deployment of renewables – particularly wind and solar – and the retirement of fossil fuel generators. Staffell writes that more than 40% of the UK’s peak fossil fuel capacity have now retired, effectively one-quarter of which having done so in the past year.
Meanwhile, the country’s thirst for renewable generation has even outstripped that of the ‘dash for gas’ in the 1990s.
At its most prevalent, around 2.4GW of gas-powered generators was being built each year. But since the turn of the decade, an average of 3.8GW of renewable capacity has been built each year.
Wind and solar have, predictably, been the two most prevalent technologies. Combined, onshore and offshore wind capacity “smashed through” the 20GW barrier in September, while the UK now has more than 13GW of solar PV capacity at its disposal.
But Staffell had words of warning for how the growth of renewables may impact on the overall operation of the grid.
“The evolving capacity mix will undoubtedly change how the power system operates... The next challenge is to make the most of these sources in order to deliver savings to consumers and the environment.
“That requires a smarter and more flexible power system, as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission and the government’s Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan. Big questions remain on how best to integrate weather-driven renewables, how far we should decentralise the power system and how to make the markets work for smart and flexible technologies.