UK hits landmark clean energy tipping point

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The UK has reached a tipping point in its electricity generation and this year will for the first time since the Industrial Revolution get more of its energy production from zero carbon sources rather than fossil fuels.

National Grid has today revealed data that shows that power from wind, solar, nuclear and hydro power and energy storage will overtake coal and gas-fired generation this year.

Britain’s switch from ‘dirty’ to ‘clean’ energy has been dramatic in the last decade. In 2009, 75.6 per cent of generation came from coal and gas, while the remaining 22.8 per cent was from renewables and nuclear. Fast-forward to this year, and that percentage is 46.6 per cent for coal and gas, while renewables and nuclear edge ahead with 47.9 per cent.

Last month, Britain achieved its first coal-free fortnight and generated record levels of solar power for two consecutive days, powering more than a quarter of the country’s daily electricity consumption.

National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew said:à‚ The incredible progress that Britain has made in the past ten years means we can now say 2019 will be the year net zero power beats fossil fuel fired generation for the first time.”

However, he added: “The question is: what are we doing today to get to net zero as quickly as possible? The interconnectors that connect our electricity grid into Norway’s hydropower are part of this story, as isà‚ having the know-how to bring renewable generation onstream to complement conventional sources of generating power.”

By 2030, National Grid intends to have at least six interconnectors operating in Britain, through which 90 per cent of electricity imported will be from zero carbon sources, with a significant number coming from Nordic hydropower: National Grid’s fifth underwater electricity cable, the North Sea Link, will plug British homes into Norway’s biggest hydroelectric dam.

The clean energy milestone comes as public concern about climate change is at an all-time high. New research commissioned by National Grid that is also released today found that “climate anxiety” is exacerbated by a perceived lack of urgency around addressing the problem and the impact this will have on future generations.

And this week it was revealed that the UK and Italy look likely to be the joint hosts of next year’s UN 26th climate change conference (COP26).

Nearly seven out of ten (69 per cent) of UK residents polled who are concerned about climate change said it was because they believe it’s not being addressed urgently enough. Unaddressed, over a third (38 per cent) of young people said their concerns about climate change would drive them to join a protest, and nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of 18-24 year olds said they are prepared to skip school or work to do this.

Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said the clean energy tipping point was “a watershed moment in British energy history and a sign that we’re broadly heading in the right direction”.

But he stressed that the green good news story was not a reason for energy ministers “to pat themselves on the back and uncork the bubbly”.

“With legislation on a 2050 net zero target before Parliament and Britain likely hosting next year’s UN climate summit, the UK government has an opportunity to seize the moment and spur world leaders into taking radical action.

“That means tripling renewables over the next decade, so that by 2030 they are 80 per cent of Britain’s electricity mix. If Britain’s efforts to switch to clean energy have come this far despite years of government hostility towards onshore wind and solar energy, just imagine what we could achieve with proper support and investment.”

Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate Change at WWF UK, said that interconnections were ” and will continue to ” play a crucial role in Britain’s energy transition. “The National Grid interconnector which will carry clean power between Norway and our own grid will help the UK secure its power supply as well as make it greener. It’s this type of solution which will help us go further and faster in our fight to protect our world.”

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