Wind and solar have driven a record fall in global coal generation in 2020, although this was heavily impacted by the low electricity demand caused by COVID-19.
Research published by thinktank Ember revealed that wind and solar now supply almost a tenth of global electricity, with Europe leading the way. This growth in the two technologies helped to push coal power to a record fall of 4% (-346TWh).
However, even with the drop in coal, globally power sector emissions were still around 2% higher than in 2015, with Dave Jones, Ember’s global lead warning that progress is still “nowhere near fast enough”.
When looking at the UK specifically, the country produced a greater share of electricity from wind than any other G20 country, with 24.2% of its electricity coming from the technology. This is over four times the global average of 6%, leading the UK to beat Germany to the top spot.
It has also achieved the G20’s fastest decline in coal generation since 2015, according to Ember, which found that coal use reduced by 93% (-71TWh). This places the UK ahead of Italy and Germany at 65% and 51% respectively, with coal now accounting for a just 1.7% of electricity production, significantly below the global average of 34%.
The UK’s remaining coal fleet is largely heading for retirement, with EDF announcing earlier this month that it is to shutter its West Burton A power station in September 2022, leaving just one coal-fired power station remaining in the UK.
This follows Drax announcing in 2020 its plans to close its two remaining coal units this month, and SSE’s last coal-fired power station, Fiddler’s Ferry, and RWE’s Aberthaw B coal-fired power station, both closing in March 2020.
Indeed, the UK also recorded the largest fall in gas generation. This fell by 15% (-20TWh) year-on-year, with France coming in second with 9% (-3TWh). However, Ember was clear that this was predominantly as a result of the drop in demand from COVID-19.
Overall, the UK still produces 37% of its electricity from gas, placing it ninth in the G20 and above the global average of 23%.
When it comes to demand, the UK electricity demand per capita has declined more in the last decade than any other G20 country. Ember explained that while at 4.8 MWh/capita it is still 1.5 times the global average, the decrease of 20% since 2010 does place the UK’s per capita electricity demand below Italy and China.