As countries strive to shift from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy system, there are several critical milestones to achieve. Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland, is on track to reach a significant milestone in 2023: generating more electricity from renewables than fossil fuels. This article explores the progress and challenges in this transition, highlighting the importance of weather-dependent renewables and the declining demand for electricity.
A Narrower Definition of Renewables
In 2020, a broader definition of renewables allowed them to overtake fossil fuels in electricity generation, although this was largely due to biomass plants burning wood pellets. While biomass is considered renewable, its scalability and environmental concerns make it less globally viable compared to wind, solar, and hydropower. Therefore, when considering a narrower definition that excludes biomass, it is highly likely that weather-dependent renewables will surpass fossil fuels in 2023, marking a significant milestone in Great Britain’s energy transition.
With just ten days remaining in 2023, renewables currently hold a slight lead over fossil fuels in electricity generation. However, the outcome will depend on weather conditions, particularly wind power. During the holidays when industrial and commercial electricity demand is lower, wind power, being clean and cost-effective, is given priority. Consequently, if the weather remains favorable, renewables are likely to maintain their lead. This race to the finish line exemplifies how renewables are gradually gaining market share in Britain’s electrical market, displacing fossil fuel generation.
Decreasing Electrical Demand
A noteworthy trend in Great Britain’s energy landscape is the continuous drop in electrical demand. In fact, 2023 is projected to have lower demand than the previous year, primarily due to the record-high prices that incentivized reduced consumption. This reduced demand eliminated the need for additional generation, much of which would have been derived from fossil fuels. Furthermore, there is a possibility that renewable generation will outstrip domestic electricity demand for the first time in 2023, with homes accounting for 36% of total electrical demand. This signifies a significant achievement, as the annual electricity generated through wind turbines, solar panels, and hydro resources will exceed the amount consumed by the nation’s 29 million households.
A Decade of Progress
To put this milestone into perspective, a bar chart illustrates the progression of renewable energy generation exceeding domestic demand since 2009. In the first half of 2023, renewable output fell short of domestic electrical demand, but strong performance in the latter half of the year indicates that total generation is likely to surpass household consumption. Therefore, even if the milestones are not achieved in 2023, they will almost certainly be accomplished in 2024 as offshore wind capacity expands and the last remaining coal-fired power station ceases operation.
Once renewables surpass fossil fuels in electricity generation, it is unlikely for gas and coal to regain dominance over wind, solar, and hydro on an annual basis. This marks a significant shift in energy production and highlights the progress made in advancing the low-carbon transition. However, it is crucial to remain critical of the challenges that lie ahead. The scalability and reliability of weather-dependent renewables must be addressed to ensure a sustainable and secure energy system. Additionally, the critics of biomass must be heard, and efforts should focus on expanding other renewable sources that have greater global scalability than burning wood pellets.
Great Britain is on the brink of achieving a significant milestone in its energy transition: generating more electricity from renewables than fossil fuels. While 2023 is projected to mark this milestone, the final outcome will depend on the weather conditions in the last few days of the year. The declining demand for electricity and the increasing contribution of renewables showcase the progress made in the low-carbon transition. However, it is vital to continue addressing the challenges associated with weather-dependent renewables and the reliance on biomass. Ultimately, achieving this milestone signifies a pivotal step towards a sustainable and low-carbon energy future.