Turbines spin in front of the Drax power station, where three units now burn wood pellets instead of coal - Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
Nearly a quarter of Britain’s electricity was generated from wind turbines, solar panels and other renewables last year.
Output from renewables rose from 19.1 per cent in 2014 to a record 24.7 per cent in 2015, according to the Department of Energy & Climate Change.
The largest contributor to the increase was Drax, the country’s biggest power station, which has converted three of its six units in North Yorkshire from burning coal to wood pellets. The conversion allows it to qualify as a generator of renewable electricity.
New offshore wind farms such as Westermost Rough, Humber Gateway and Gwynt y Mor, a 576-megawatt project owned by RWE Innogy and located 13 km off the coast of north Wales, also raised overall output. All were connected to the grid last year.
The increased supply of electricity from lower carbon energy, lower output from coal-fired plants and the shutdown of some of the biggest industrial sites such as the steelmaking plant at Redcar last year helped to contribute to a modest fall in emissions of greenhouse gases by 3.3 per cent.
The UK generated 337.7 terawatt hours of electricity in 2015, of which 83.3 terawatt hours was produced from renewables, including onshore and offshore wind farms.
The largest share of generation was from gas-fired power stations, which supplied about one third of the total, or 99.8 terawatt hours.
Electricity from coal-fired power stations fell sharply as high costs and carbon taxes forced many to cut output or shut down. Output from nuclear power stations rose 10 per cent as EDF, owner of the UK’s reactors, invested in the modernisation of ageing equipment and raised overall performance.
The UK has a legally binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 and has created five-year carbon budgets towards meeting that goal.
It is set to make the cuts needed to meet the second and third carbon budgets to 2022 but the government says that it risks missing the fourth budget, which runs until 2027. It requires a cut of 50 per cent by 2025.
“Our plan is working: we’re delivering affordable, secure and low-carbon energy for hardworking families and businesses. Last year energy bills were down by £46 and we got a quarter of our electricity from renewable sources,” a spokesman for the department said.
Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said that nuclear energy was an important part of the UK’s energy strategy.
“Nuclear provides the baseload, 24/7 electricity required to power the country and will need to continue to play a role if the UK is to improve security of supply and meet national and international climate commitments,” he said.
The Institute for Public Policy Research said that present government policies to encourage the construction of new power plants were not working and called for a revamp of the capacity market system, which is designed to ensure the availability of power generation at times when output from wind and solar projects drops away.
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor - The Times
Power from renewables surges to high as emissions fall [Online] Available at: < http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/power-from-renewables-surges-to-record-high-as-emissions-fall-ppcqs22jd > [Accessed 06 July 2016]