The past six months have become historic for energy generation in the UK, with solar panels generating more electricity than coal.
Carbon Brief research found that between April and September solar generated nearly 7,000gW hours of electricity, whilst coal only produced 6,300gWh.
The first ever day when solar produced more than coal was only on 9th April – when there was no coal-fired electricity for the first time since 1882. But then May became the first month this has ever happened, and then we continued to produce more solar energy than coal throughout the whole summer.
In 2015 solar capacity nearly doubled, but head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association, James Court, emphasises that “Solar overtaking coal this summer would have been largely unthinkable five years ago.”
“This new data shows its popularity amongst homeowners and businesses and its falling costs. Now that we have a significant global and domestic industry, solar is one of the cheapest forms of power.”
Whilst coal may once again overtake solar this winter due to less sunlight, scientists have been working on using technology to store energy from the summer sun until it is needed in the winter.
Energy storage systems on a smaller scale already exist and solve potential intermittency problems with renewable generators. These have been increasing in popularity due to their efficiency and affordability.
Court states “The role for solar is significantly expanding as we develop complementary energy storage technologies, but we need government support to continue to achieve its potential.”
The Renewable Energy Association found there are now 35 grid-scale energy storage projects and at least 1,500 residential ones. This totals about 3.2GW and includes hydro schemes whereby “electricity can be used to pump water uphill so that it can be used to drive turbines when needed.” The Independent.
Excessive supply of renewable energy can cause prices to go very low or even negative, which has previously happened in Germany among other countries.
In this scenario, utilisation of energy storage would enable those to make money twice – once when they are paid to take electricity from the gird and again when the electricity is used at a time when electricity prices turn positive again.
Senior policy analyst of the Renewable Energy Association, said “Energy storage has great potential in the UK, and can unlock billions worth of savings according to the Government’s advisers.”
“Our research indicates that there are multiple gigawatts of capacity that are being proposed or are ready to be developed, but a joined-up and supportive policy structure is critically needed.”
Last year, the Government set out proposals to “close coal” by 2025, where “unabated” coal-fired power stations will be phased out.
This suggests emissions would need to be at least partially “abated” or reduced by that date, which can be achieved through increasing solar generation and energy storage.
Chief executive of renewable energy supplier Good Energy, Juliet Davenport, said: "Renewable energy has been an unbelievable success story in the UK and around the globe. When I started my company 15 years ago, you could fit the whole UK renewable energy industry into a small room, and now nearly 25 per cent of the UK’s power comes from renewables. We've also seen a renewable revolution on people's rooftops with more than 750,000 UK homes generating their own energy from the sun.”
“As clean technology advances, Britain is bidding farewell to coal. The transition to a 100 per cent renewable future is within Britain's grasp.”
This shows a dramatic turnaround in the UK’s electricity supplies and is exciting news for the future of our renewable generation.
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