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UK Renewables Generated More Electricity Than Gas This Winter, Think Tank Claims

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British-based renewables generated more electricity than gas this winter, an energy think tank has claimed.

According to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), between Oct. 1, 2022, and Feb. 28, 2023, power generated by wind, hydro, and solar reached 47 terawatt hours (TWh), slightly exceeding the electricity generated by gas over the same period.

Other sources of generation, including nuclear and biomass, generated 28 TWh over the winter period, the group said.

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An aerial photograph shows the Sycamore Farm Solar Farm, in Old Romeny, southeast England, on April 18, 2022. (Ben Stansall /AFP via Getty Images)

Official data suggest that the UK’s renewable power capacity grew by 3.4 GW in 2022 alone. This is reflected in the growth of renewables generation, which was 4 TWh higher this winter than in the same period last year, EUIU said.

Jess Ralston, head of energy at ECIU, said: “We’re seeing the old electricity system give way to the new, with renewables becoming the backbone and displacing more and more gas. Battery storage is ramping up faster than expected, boosting the UK’s energy security and leaving us less exposed to international gas markets.

“Lifting the ban on onshore wind will help. But with the U.S. and the EU going gangbusters for renewables, eyes are on the government, the chancellor, and the budget to decide on how the UK stays an attractive market for the investments that will ultimately bring down bills.”

Energy Independence

The UK government sees developing renewables as part of its strategy to bolster the country’s energy independence.

Meeting U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in London on Monday, UK Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said that greater energy independence has become a necessity for the UK in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps leaves Downing Street, London, on Feb. 27, 2023. (James Manning/PA Media)

He said this would mean “powering Britain from Britain” by switching to home-grown sources including nuclear and renewables.

Shapps said: “The war has shown the UK, the U.S., and countries the world over the need for ever greater energy independence, fuelled by moves away from fossil fuels and towards home-grown sources like renewables and nuclear.”

Granholm said the U.S. government is “keenly aware that remaining overly reliant on fossil fuels puts our energy security at risk and that the solution lies in diversifying our fuel sources through the deployment of clean energy.”

Reliability Concerns

The UK government sees wind power as an important component of its long-term energy strategy.

In September 2020, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the United Nations that the UK has got “huge, huge gusts of wind” and he wanted to turn the country into the “Saudi Arabia” of wind power.

But unlike Saudi oil, wind power fluctuates with the weather, even in Britain. As a result, its reliability has always been a concern.

In September 2021, the UK was forced to fire up a coal power plant to ensure electricity supply, as low winds prevented wind farms from generating as much power as expected.

The UK’s National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) asked energy firm EDF to fire up West Burton A, EDF’s only remaining coal-fired power station which the company had decided to decommission in September 2022.

Following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the British government—which had pledged in 2021 that the UK will stop using coal to generate electricity from October 2024—reportedly asked EDF to consider if it could keep the West Burton A plant going.

A government spokesperson said in March 2022: “The UK remains committed to ending the use of coal power by 2024. We will be setting out plans to boost our long-term energy resilience and domestic supply shortly.

“The operation of UK coal plants is ultimately a commercial matter and we have made no formal request to EDF.”

Rising US Gas Imports

Despite the U.S. and UK governments’ stated objective of moving towards renewables, the United States has significantly ramped up its export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the UK and the European continent in the past year.

According to data from Kpler, during the first 11 months of 2022, U.S. LNG exports to Europe rose by more than 137 percent from the same period in 2021, supplying more than half of Europe’s imported LNG, and helping the region weather a more than 54 percent plunge in piped shipments from Russia.

In December, Downing Street announced a new “UK–U.S. Energy Security and Affordability Partnership,” under which the United States will aim to export at least 9–10 billion cubic metres of LNG over the next year via UK terminals, more than doubling the level exported in 2021.

According to the UK government, the initiative has an “immediate goal” of stabilising energy markets and reducing demand, while seeking to build long-term resilience by accelerating the shift to “clean” alternatives.

This will involve promoting nuclear fuels as a “safe” and “reliable” part of the transition, expediting the development of clean hydrogen, and driving international investment in offshore wind and carbon capture.

PA Media contributed to this report.

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