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UK government commits to low carbon grid by 2035… as low carbon share falls

Published October 12, 2021

UK government commits to low carbon grid by 2035… as low carbon share falls

Renewables and nuclear will generate all the electricity in the UK by 2035, supplanting gas generation almost entirely, Boris Johnson has promised in a speech at the Conservative Party conference despite recent figures showing the low carbon share of electricity generation fell by nearly 9% in 2021.

The new announcement comes as the UK is hit by dramatic rises in global wholesale energy prices. Previously, Johnson’s government had committed to decarbonise the country’s power generation by 2050.

Boris pledged to ramp up efforts to deploy offshore wind, hydrogen and solar, alongside nuclear, onshore wind and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

According to Nikki Wilson, Alfa Energy’s compliance and carbon reporting manager, the government’s own figures show that the low carbon (renewables, hydro, and nuclear) share of electricity generation in the UK had slipped to around 50%. A statistical summary covering May to July 2021 said: “Low carbon share of electricity generation by Major Power Producers down 8.6 percentage points to 49.1%, while fossil fuel share of electricity generation stood at 50.3%.”

The fall comes after a solid rise the year before. The share of low carbon electricity generation on the UK grid had risen to 59.3% in 2020, with renewables accounting for 43.1%. The good news is that the amount of renewable capacity connected to the grid has increased by 500% to 48GW at the end of June this year. 

“This year the wind output been low,” said Jeremy Nicholson, Alfa Energy’s corporate affairs officer, “so that’s why renewables output has been lower despite more capacity coming onstream. Some days have seen more electricity generated from coal than wind. These renewables figures are variable. The nuclear component is going down too, with reactors coming to the end of their life, so the low carbon element could go down even further this year.”

Business & Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Recent volatile gas prices have demonstrated how the way to strengthen Britain’s energy security and protect household energy budgets is through clean power… generated in this country. We need to reduce our emissions and meet increased demand while ensuring the system remains reliable and affordable.”

The government will publish its net zero strategy before November’s UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.