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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Wind power generated more electricity than coal in 2016 to set new record

The UK generated more energy from wind than coal for the first time over a full calendar year in 2016, according to analysts at Carbon Brief.

Renewables creating 'new opportunities' ©iStock
Renewables creating 'new opportunities' ©iStock

Their estimates show that wind turbines contributed to 11.5% of power generation over the last 12 months in comparison to 9.2% from coal plants – its lowest output level since 1935.

This news follows plans set out by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last November to close all coal-fired power stations by the end of 2025, with three shut down last year.

RenewableUK executive director, Emma Pinchbeck, said: “This is a historic and exciting change to our power infrastructure.

“As old-fashioned coal is phased out, modern technologies like wind are stepping up to make sure consumers have reliable energy without the damaging health impacts of coal pollution - as well as delivering for the UK economy.”

These latest estimates would also mean that CO2 emissions from power generation in the UK have fallen by around 20% in 2016, and by 6% for overall emissions over the year.

As well as stations closing, falling electricity demand and rising imports from continental Europe have been attributed to the fall in coal power generation, which is now down almost 80% since 2012.

The UK’s annual electricity generation since 1920 by source:

Source: Carbon Brief
Source: Carbon Brief

Approximately 68% of the UK’s reduction in fossil-fuelled electricity since 2010 has been substituted with low-carbon sources, mainly renewables, according to the research, with CO2 emissions from electricity generation around half now what they were seven years ago.

“Renewables are helping traditional British companies find new opportunities as times change, with Siemens opening a massive factory in Hull, and Harland and Wolff in Belfast supplying steel foundations to the offshore wind industry,” Pinchbeck continued.

“Globally, energy is shifting to renewables. Investors have seen the way the wind’s blowing, with more than $300bn invested in clean energy last year and private companies divesting away from fossil fuels.

“The government should make a New Year’s resolution to back renewables in its forthcoming Industrial Strategy, so that the UK can make the most of the exciting changes ahead”.