The UK now gets more Power from Renewables than Coal
The UK government has released a report on the state of renewable energy generation in the country, announcing that for the first time in the country’s history more power is being generated from renewable energy sources than from coal. These renewable sources include wind, bioenergy, solar, and hydroelectric, and they now collectively produce more than a quarter of the overall energy for Britain. That’s compared to a figure of 20.5% for coal, making renewables the second largest energy source overall, after natural gas. The study is available in pdf format.
The third most abundant source of electricity was nuclear power, with 21.5%, meaning that almost half of all energy in the UK was produced without the release of atmospheric carbon — though that number is lowered somewhat, since “biofuels” like wood are still considered a renewable energy source despite releasing carbon as a byproduct of generating power. Some would quibble with the use of the term “green” for nuclear power, but in terms of combating climate change its impacts should be lumped together with true renewables like solar and wind.
renewables 2The two biggest renewable producers were biofuel and wind (combined on- and offshore), with solar and hydro representing comparatively little power. That’s to be expected in the UK, since its weather and geography don’t give it much access to bright sunlight or enormous, rushing rivers. Renewable power is a mosaic solution, requiring each individual country to come up with its own special mix of sources. Geothermal did not even make it into this breakdown of UK power sources, while it could end up being a major source of electricity in countries like Spain.
The US Energy Information Administration reports that as of 2014, in the US renewables only accounted for about 10% of energy generated. The biggest source of energy production in the US is natural gas, as it has been for some time. Put together, renewables and nuclear account for less than a quarter of America’s overall energy output.
It is somewhat misleading to say that coal is on the decline, while natural gas is used more extensively than ever before. Natural gas is, in a very real sense, nothing more than liquid coal — a joule taken from coal and given to natural gas will produce less pollution, but only slightly. The promise of renewables overtaking coal can only really come to pass if the benefits of leaving coal (lowered carbon output) actually come to pass.
The US has invested heavily in natural gas production for more than just electricity. The sale of natural gas has made the US a net energy exporter, and theoretically “energy independent,” though the country still purchases enormous amounts of power from foreign nations. In the US it’s hydroelectric that dominates the generation of renewable energy, though solar has been gaining lately and has the potential to explode, especially in the country’s sun-drenched Southern states.
Meanwhile, some studies predict that the US could transition to producing 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. This and other optimistic estimates are based on the idea of significant investment from the government in question, however, and whether it’s the US or even the UK, right now that seems unlikely. Despite this week’s announcement, the UK government has been making significant cuts to the green energy sector; we’ll have to wait and see whether those cuts lead to a reduction in the pace at which renewables can continue to take over the energy market.