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Green energy overtakes fossil fuels in the UK in 2019 for the first time

The UK’s National Grid reports that green energy became the largest power source in the country in 2019. Last year was the UK’s cleanest energy year on record.

The National Grid includes nuclear energy in the mix, as well as wind, solar, and energy imported by subsea cables. That combination supplied 48.5% of the UK’s electricity in 2019. Fossil fuels — coal, gas, oil, and diesel — provided 43%. Biomass such as wood pellets made up 8.5%.

The UK’s target year to become net zero is 2050, so the country is nearly at the halfway point.

Coal now only provides 1.9% of electricity for Britain. By March, there will be four coal plants left in the country. Last summer, the country went for 18 days without burning any coal.

The Guardian breaks down the sources of power:

The National Grid figures show a dramatic shift in the last two decades. Wind farms, solar panels, and hydro power now generate just over a quarter of Britain’s electricity, compared with 2.3% in 1990. Nuclear power accounts for 17%, compared with nearly 20% in 1990. However, the use of gas — a fossil fuel — also shot up to generate more than 38% of the country’s power last year, compared with just 0.1% in 1990.

In December, National Grid unveiled plans to invest almost £10 billion in the UK’s gas and electricity networks over the next five years. Of this, almost £1 billion has been earmarked for the transition to a net zero carbon electricity system by 2025, including investments in new equipment and technology.

A further £85 million will support changes to the ways people heat their homes, switching away from gas boilers to technologies such as electric heat pumps and hydrogen boilers. National Grid estimates that more than 23 million homes will need to install new low-carbon heating solutions by 2050.

Electrek’s Take

Overall, this is a great milestone for the UK, but there are caveats. Bottom line, Britain is going in the right direction. They’re not Denmark, who gets nearly half their power from wind, but hey, coal is nearly gone, and fossil-fuel usage overall is falling. I do appreciate, however, that the Guardian stated what I would have stated anyway — that natural gas is a fossil fuel.

The subsea cables are piping in electricity created by gas on the continent. So can that really be included in the “clean” mix? Just because natural gas is not produced on your soil doesn’t make it clean energy.

Further, I recognize that nuclear energy is cleaner than fossil fuels (and it’s dropped a bit in usage, too), but it’s hardly without controversy. France and Germany disagree about whether it should be categorized as clean, as Electrek covered at the end of November. There’s also that small sticking point for nuclear of waste treatment — like, how Marie Curie’s lab is still radioactive and will be thousands of years after we’re all dead.

And please work to ditch the gas asap, Britain. I knew that — I’m a British citizen and we always had gas heating. I’m hoping that the gas is an interim solution as the country transitions. And probably the nuclear, too — but good luck trying to find a place to bury the waste. Germany is stumped by that problem.

But let’s end this on a positive note: Wind, solar, and hydro jumping from 2.3% in 1990 to over 25% is great. So let’s stay the course on that front.

Photo: Peter Cavanagh/Alamy Stock Photo

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.