A wind farm off the coast of the UK

The winds of change: UK leads the way

Amid all the headlines of 2020, immense shifts in how the UK generates its power were underway, suggesting a cleaner, greener future.

According to a report on global electricity production worldwide, published by Ember, a leading think-tank, the UK is making great strides in using more renewable supplies of energy. In 2020, something monumental happened – the UK knocked Germany off the top spot for wind power, and wind generated 24.2 per cent of our electricity last year.

But that’s not all. The UK led the G20 in reducing its reliance on coal with great effect in 2020. Between 2015-20, coal usage in the UK energy sector collapsed 93 per cent, equivalent to 71 TWh of power.

Ember sees bright lights in the UK

As far as the decarbonisation agenda is going, Ember’s report for the UK is hugely encouraging. Not only is the UK finally harnessing the potential of wind power to great effect, but it is also eliminating toxic hydrocarbons from its energy mix, including coal and natural gas.

An entirely clean power sector by 2035 is now possible

– Ember, Independent climate & energy think tank

In 2020, the UK reduced natural gas usage by 15 per cent on an annual basis. Admittedly, this decline may owe much credit to the impact of the pandemic, and the UK remains far more reliant on gas than other G20 members. Even so, renewables look more likely to fill the gap left by hydrocarbons.

Since 2015, the UK has boosted electricity generation from renewables by 56 per cent. Wind and solar power led the way, and coal is expected to drop out of the UK’s energy mix entirely by October 2024, having only generated 1.7 per cent of the country’s power in 2020.

Further to go still

Much has been achieved by the UK in order to get closer to that net-zero target by 2050. Even so, we need to acknowledge the challenge that we continue to face. In 2020, the UK’s energy demand per capita was almost 1.5 times higher than the world average. Simply put, we’re living beyond our means, and if every country lived as we do, we would need multiple Earths to keep us powered up.

Thankfully, energy demand is showing signs of dropping and becoming less intensive. Since 2010, the UK’s per capita energy requirements have fallen by 20 per cent, meaning the UK has lower energy demand than Italy or China.

Looking ahead, the end of coal in 2024 is certainly not the end of the story. The UK remains dependent on gas and oil for a large chunk of its energy needs, and the UK Climate Change Committee has recommended that there must be a plan to achieve a zero-carbon power supply by 2035.

Ember’s report concluded on an optimistic note, saying the end of the age of gas was starting to approach, and that a decline in its usage was already underway. As a result, they added, “An entirely clean power sector by 2035 is now possible.”

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