U.K. Renewables Beat Coal Power for the First Time Ever

Optimal weather conditions and more wind and solar capacity vaulted renewable energy production over carbon-spewing coal from April through June.

Wind power plant worker at wind farm. (Photo: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images)

Sep 25, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

A sunny, windy summer pushed the U.K.’s renewable energy production past coal power for the first time ever.

The stats out Sept. 24 from the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed that during the second quarter of 2015, a record-high 25.3 percent of the U.K.’s power needs were met by wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable energy sources, while coal accounted for 20.5 percent. That’s a bump up for renewables, which made up 16.7 percent of the energy mix over the same quarter last year, and a drop for coal, down from 28.5 percent a year ago.

The full picture of the U.K.’s energy mix for April–June 2015 looked like this: Gas-fired power stations still provided most of the electricity at 30 percent, and renewables were second at 25.6 percent. Nuclear power came in third, providing 21.5 percent, and coal—the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions—came in fourth with 20.5 percent.

The renewables uptick, according to the DECC, was because of both favorable weather conditions and increased generation capabilities for wind (up 65 percent over 2014) and solar (up 115 percent).

(Graphic: Courtesy Gov.uk)

As renewables began taking off, U.K. officials were busy cutting subsidies for solar and onshore wind power and removing incentives for residents to make their homes more energy-efficient.

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“The new statistics show that Britain is relying increasingly on dependable renewable sources to keep the country powered up, with onshore and offshore wind playing the leading roles in our clean energy mix,” said Maria McCaffery, chief executive of trade group RenewableUK, in a statement. “So far, we’ve had a series of disappointing announcements from ministers since May, which unfortunately betray a lack of positive ambition at the heart of government. If ministers want to see good statistics like we’ve had today continuing into the years ahead, they have to knuckle down, listen to the high level of public support we enjoy, and start making positive announcements on wind, wave, and tidal energy.”

(Graphic: Courtesy Gov.uk)

Those sentiments were echoed by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who called the government’s subsidy cuts “puzzling” during a climate change debate in London on Sept. 22. He also said fossil fuels have enjoyed subsidies at least 44 times as high as those for renewable energy.

“Will our children ask, ‘Why didn’t you act?’ Or ask, ‘How did you find the moral courage to rise up and change?’ ” he asked the audience. “It is time for the U.K. government to honor and live up to that legacy and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris that unleashes the power of the private sector to create a global clean energy economy.”

The DECC said early government support was responsible for bringing down the cost of renewable energy production but that extending or creating new subsidies should be done sparingly.

“Our priority is now to move towards a low-carbon economy whilst ensuring subsidies are used where they are needed most, which provides the best value for money for hardworking bill payers,” the DECC said.