Recently released figures show that 2017 was a great year for energy sustainability in the UK, with record-breaking levels of renewable energy production and historically low prices for electricity generated by the wind. It was our greenest summer ever, with nearly 52% of electricity generation between 21 June and 22 September 2017 coming from low-carbon sources.
For the first time in history, on 7 June 2017, low-carbon technologies (nuclear and renewables) provided more electricity than all of the fossil fuel sources combined (oil, gas and coal).
Another symbolic milestone was achieved on Friday 21 May 2017, the first full day since the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s when no coal was used to generate our electricity, an important step towards the Government’s commitment to phase out Britain’s coal power plants by 2025.
In the offshore wind industry, spectacular progress in turbine efficiency, larger turbine rotor sizes and growing experience with offshore engineering and maintenance technologies have all contributed to huge savings. Government figures show that the price paid for electricity generated by offshore wind farms fell by more than 50% in less than five years. The data suggest that new offshore wind farms that are due to open in 2022/23 will be viable with public subsidies as low as £57.50/MWh, compared with the £92.50/MWh subsidy that was secured for the Hinkley Point C new nuclear power station.
The UK now has the fourth greenest power system in Europe (and seventh in the world), and the British electricity sector has halved its carbon emissions since 2012, a remarkable record. Despite this, the UK is lagging behind schedule for achieving its longer-term carbon reduction targets. Going forward, other sectors will need to match the level of achievement of the electricity sector, and attention is being increasingly focused on transport and agriculture.
There is similar good news from the energy markets around the world. Global renewable energy capacity grew by a record amount in 2016, and nearly 25% of electricity came from renewable sources. Hydropower provided most of this, with contributions from wind and solar at around 4% and 1.5% respectively.
Solar power is following in the footsteps of offshore wind as an increasingly viable technology, and power supply deals in countries around the world, including Mexico, Denmark, Egypt, India and the UAE, saw renewable energy projects being priced well below fossil fuel and nuclear power alternatives.
Worldwide, new renewable energy projects accounted for some 161GW of new capacity in 2016 (a 10% increase over 2015 and another new record) at a cost of $242bn, which, despite representing a 23% reduction in investment compared to 2015, was greater than that for fossil fuel generation. New solar power accounted for half of the new capacity, while wind power added a third and hydropower 15%.