UK energy statistics show wind power and biomass push renewable electricity to record high - for a bit

  • 31 Oct 2013, 13:30
  • Robin Webster

The proportion of the UK's electricity generated by renewables increased by 60 per cent between the second quarter of 2012 and the second quarter of 2013. But some of the rise will be short-lived after the closure of a major biomass power station. 

The figures are contained in the Department for Energy and Climate Change's latest 'snapshot' quarterly energy statistics. 

The figures track energy production and consumption between mid 2012 and mid 2013, and show a significant rise in renewable electricity production:

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 At 10.47.49


Source: DECC statistics on electricity generation, released 31st October. 

There was a slight fall in electricity generation in the UK - by 2.7 per cent - probably because consumption fell as prices rose. 

This may have contributed to an increased proportion of renewables in the mix, but overall renewable capacity also grew. 

Biomass giveth, and is taken away

Some of the growth in renewable electricity was because of an increase in the amount of electricity generated by burning plants and trees in power stations. In 2011, energy company RWE Npower converted a coal-fired power station in  Tilbury, Essex to generate electricity power from  wood pellets instead of coal. 

In 2013, the plant was up and running for the first time, significantly contributing to the jump in the amount of electricity generated from bioenergy.

The blue section of this chart shows electricity from biomass:  

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 At 13.31.29

Source DECC statistics on renewables generation, released 31st October 

Tilbury was briefly the largest bioenergy plant in the world, providing ten per cent of the country's renewable power, according to  Npower. It was a short-lived operation, however. Npower announced its  closure  in July, and it was shut down in  August

The company took the  decision because Tilbury failed to qualify for government subsidies to burn wood instead of coal. 

While not really relevant to the Tilbury closure,  questions hang over the sustainability of biomass as a power source. The government recently announced a cut in subsidies encouraging companies to generate electricity from plants, trees or crops. 

The biomass industry is still likely to keep  growing, however. The recent conversion of Drax power station also contributed to the growth in bioenergy in 2013. But the closure of Tilbury will certainly impact on how much electricity the country generates from renewables in next year's statistics.

More wind power

Wind power also showed significant growth. The amount of electricity the country generated from onshore wind rose by 70 per cent between the second quarter of 2012 and the second quarter of 2013. Power generation from offshore wind increased by 51 per cent on a year over the same time period. 

This is partly due to the opening and expansion of new onshore wind farms. In the second quarter of this year 343 megawatts (MW) of new onshore wind farms came online, and about half as much new capacity (162MW) from three offshore wind farms. 

It's also been windier, meaning more electricity. For example, 2013 saw the windiest April in the last thirteen years, and the windiest month since January 2012. 

Fossil fuels still dominate

While it's interesting to look at renewable electricity, generation from fossil fuels still dominates the UK power sector. The electricity generation share for coal and gas changed very little between the second quarter of 2012 and the same period this year. Coal generated 35 per cent the country's electricity in the second quarter of 2013; gas accounted for 28.5 per cent of power production. 

These statistics provide a useful cross-reference to the UK energy debate, although they aren't the whole story. DECC released  14 new statistical updates today, of which we've looked at just two.

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