It’s official: Renewables provided 40 per cent of Britain’s electricity in 2021

Almost 40 per cent of Britain’s electricity was provided by renewable sources in 2021, making it the second highest year on record for clean power generation, the government has confirmed in its official annual energy statistics compendium.

Published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the latest edition of the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) highlights the critical role clean energy generators had in powering Britain in 2021, providing 39.6 per cent of total electricity generation over the calendar year.

That proportion is slightly down on the 43.2 per cent share recorded in 2020, however, thanks to less favorable weather conditions for wind and solar power, according to BEIS.

But the march of renewable energy nevertheless continued last year, with the report – viewed by policy wonks as the UK’s ‘energy bible’ – showing that a “modest” 1.8GW of new renewable capacity was installed in the 12-month period, increasing overall renewables capacity by 3.7 per cent.

That marks an increase on the 900MW of renewables capacity added the previous year, when Covid-19 restrictions were at their most onerous, the report notes.

Nuclear output, meanwhile, was somewhat disrupted by maintenance, dropping to the lowest level since 1976, according to the report.

More broadly, the analysis also reveals that the UK’s overall demand for energy in 2021 did not return to pre-pandemic levels, with energy consumption down nine per cent on 2019 despite being higher than in 2020.

Transport demand last year also remained 23 per cent lower than 2019 levels, with consumption of aviation fuel falling to a record low, despite trending upwards towards the end of the year as the aviation sector began to recover from the pandemic.

Meanwhile, energy consumption for industrial uses and services last year began to tick upwards from April onwards as shops, restaurants and offices were no longer bound to Covid restrictions, according to the report. All the while, domestic remand remained higher than usual as people continued to spend more time at home.

The report also shows that overall energy production fell back in 2021, with oil and gas output declining 17 per cent as North Sea rigs underwent extensive maintenance, while coal-fired power production also fell to a record low.

As a result of the dip in oil and gas production, imports of gas from the UK’s primary supplier Norway exceeded UK domestic production for the first time, the report states.

The latest statistics come as homes and businesses brace themselves for yet another major hike in energy bills ahead of this coming winter, prompting widespread concern about the potential impacts on consumer finances and the wider economy. The surge in energy prices over the past year has been driven by the volatile and risky global fossil gas market, on which the UK relies for a significant proportion of its electricity and heating supplies.

With the UK facing tighter gas supplies as it seeks to reduce its import of fossil fuels, particularly from Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine, UK energy statistics for the first quarter of 2022 show that the shortfall in gas generation is being filled by cheaper renewables, mostly wind and solar power.

Jess Ralston, senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said that the best solution for expensive energy prices was to push faster on homegrown, renewable sources of energy, while also improving energy efficiency.

“For every megawatt of renewable power this winter, that’s basically a megawatt less of gas power we have to source and pay for,” she said. “This trend is only set to continue with recently commissioned wind projects four times cheaper than current gas and new farms coming online every year. This will protect us from gas price shocks in the long term particularly as the North Sea is a declining basin and fracking is so unpopular with voters.”

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