Zero carbon power sources outstrip fossil fuels in 2019 in historic first

Zero carbon sources, including solar, generated more power in 2019 than fossil fuels in a historic first, according to National Grid.

Wind, solar and hydro together generated 26.5% of Britain’s electricity. This contributed towards a total of 48.5% of power from zero carbon sources when added to nuclear and imports from interconnectors. In comparison, fossil fuels, predominantly gas, generated 43% of the nations power, while the remaining 8.5% came from biomass.

This milestone is particularly important as we head into 2020, the midway point in the UK’s net zero journey. The country is aiming to reduce its emissions from 1990’s baseline by 100% over the next 30 years. In 1990, just 2.3% of Britain’s electricity came from wind, solar and hydro, while coal accounted for 75%.

National Grid CEO John Pettigrew said: “As we enter a new decade, this truly is a historic moment and an opportunity to reflect on how much has been achieved.

“At National Grid, we know we have a critical role in the acceleration towards a cleaner future and are committed to playing our part in delivering a safe and secure energy system that works for all.”

2019 saw a number of milestones in clean generation set, including solar power producing a record 9,550MW in May. 

On top of this growth in solar, other renewables have seen marked growth. A new record for wind power was set on 10 December, as the tail end of Storm Atiyah sent generation soaring to 17,342MW, or 44% of Britain’s electricity. This led to a further milestone, as negative pricing lasted for over 13 hours due to the abundance of wind power on the network.

Other milestones included the longest period without coal since the industrial revolution, with 437 hours of generation without the fossil fuel in May, and the ‘greenest’ day ever on 17 August, when carbon intensity was just 57gCO2/kWh.

National Grid ESO director Fintan Slye said: “2019 has been a record breaking year for Britain’s electricity. Our system is changing quickly, with wind and solar generation consistently making up a significant proportion of power being generated - it’s an exciting time and a pivotal part of getting to net-zero by 2050.”

In June, National Grid predicted that 2019 would see more power from zero carbon sources than fossil fuels, after they provided 47.9% of Britain’s electricity demand in the first five months.

This strong performance by zero carbon sources continued, with renewables generating more power in Q3 than fossil fuels in a first for the country.

Efforts to decarbonise the UK’s energy system will continue throughout 2020, with National Grid announcing an investment of almost £10bn in the gas and electricity networks over five years in December. Of this, nearly £1bn has been allocated for transitioning the grid to net zero by 2025.