Last reviewed 9 October 2020
Renewable electricity generation reached record highs last year, but fossil fuels still dominate energy supply in the UK, data shows.
Renewables’ share of generation was at a record high level of 37.1% in 2019, up from 33.1% in 2018, due to increased wind, solar and plant biomass capacity, according to the latest data from the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES).
The data released by BEIS also shows that overall emissions fell by 14.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) — a fall of 3.9% between 2018 and 2019, mainly due to a 0.9% fall in energy consumption and the switch from coal to renewables in the fuel mix used for electricity generation.
Coal supply has contracted substantially in recent years. Last year, coal production fell 16% compared to 2018, resulting in an all-time low of 2.2 million tonnes. Net imports also fell 39% but still accounted for 73% of the UK’s supply, with UK production coming mainly from open cast mines, following the closure of the last deep coal mine in 2015.
Overall, the amount of fossil fuel used in electricity generation decreased by 9.1% in 2019 compared to 2018, with coal use in electricity decreasing by 56% to reach a new record. There was also a decrease of 0.4% in the amount of gas used in electricity generation — the lowest value for gas since 2015.
The DUKES report argues that the main driver for the shift in power generation between coal and gas was an increase in the carbon price floor in April 2015, from £9 per tonne of CO2 to £18 per tonne of CO2.
Since coal generation produces more than double the amount of carbon dioxide per GWh of electricity supplied than gas, this made generation from coal much less economically viable than gas. The shift away from coal generation also led to two more of the UK’s coal generation plants closing in 2019, leaving only five coal-fired power stations in operation in the UK.
More recent evidence suggests a record fall in carbon (CO2) emissions following the worldwide coronavirus lockdown, but data released by CarbonBrief shows levels will likely rebound quickly unless there are large structural changes towards net zero emissions.