Ten years ago, fossil fuels provided over three quarters of Britain’s electricity. However, according to new research from Drax Electricity Insights (opens in new tab), renewables overtook fossil fuels for the first time in 2020 to become Britain’s biggest source of electricity over the whole year. Together, wind, solar, hydro and biomass provided 104 TWh of electricity, or 39% of all electricity consumed.
In past years, renewable energy has overtaken fossil fuels during summer months, but 2020 was the first time that renewables were the country’s main source of energy over the course of a full year. This was made possible because, during the year, the UK recorded a string of green energy records. A new record for solar power was set in April and we also saw the highest recorded output for wind during Storm Bella on Boxing Day.
The trend towards renewables also accelerated following a sudden drop in demand as shops, offices and restaurants closed during the Covid lockdowns. This caused gas and coal power stations to be turned down and meant that carbon emissions also fell by 16% year-on-year.
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Next steps will be more challenging
In 2020, wind and solar power alone generated 27% of Britain’s electricity. However, although this number seems impressive, it’s only around half of the share required by 2025 for the UK to reach its climate targets according to the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The CCC put the share of electricity from wind and solar at 50% by 2025 and 69% by 2030.
As a result, achieving the CCC’s targets will require the introduction of a range of other technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and nuclear. So, although Britain is definitely edging closer to the energy system of the future, much more must be done for Britain to achieve its ambitious climate targets.
Iain Staffell, the lead author of the report from Drax Electricity Insights, said that “the next steps we must take towards a net zero power system will be more challenging – driving out the last sources of fossil carbon will require us to go beyond just having more wind and solar power.”
“New business models, backed by policy and investment, will be needed to bring advanced-but-proven technologies into the mainstream. This means that the electricity used in homes, hospitals, offices and factories could even be carbon negative – sourced from a range of low, zero carbon and negative emissions technologies.”
What does this mean for consumers?
As the country’s electricity supply moves further towards renewables, customers will have more choice than ever before when it comes to energy suppliers and green energy tariffs.
Specialist green energy suppliers such as Octopus Energy and Bulb Energy have already disrupted the market in this regard, and now most of the 'Big Six' energy companies offer tariffs that provide 100% green electricity. In fact, almost all of the country’s best energy suppliers offer green energy contracts.
The really good news for consumers though is that our research shows that most of these green tariffs are no more expensive than traditional fixed-price energy contracts. In fact, most of the best energy deals are currently green.
The best way to find out how much a green energy tariff will cost you is to run an online energy comparison and filter your results so you only see green energy providers.
However, if you’re thinking about switching to a green energy supplier, it’s important that you research their fuel mix before you sign up. This is because while some companies guarantee the use of green energy, others simply offset your use. All suppliers must report how their energy is generated to Ofgem, so you’ll easily be able to compare providers.
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