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How much of the UK’s energy is renewable?

With the UK aiming to reach net zero by 2050, a crucial part of the strategy is to transition to an electricity system with 100% zero-carbon generation and much of this is expected to come from renewable energy.

Renewable energy is already part of our electricity mix (the different energy sources that make up our electricity supply), but how much are we using currently and how much more will we need in order to reach net zero?

What renewables are used to generate electricity?

Currently, there are four main renewable energy sources used to power the UK: wind, solar, hydroelectric and bioenergy. They harness the natural power of the sun, our weather, our waterways and tides, and organic materials to generate electricity.

Currently, the majority of the electricity entering the national grid from a single energy source is natural gas. Natural gas is a largely imported fossil fuel and can emit harmful GHGs, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), when burned to generate electricity.

How much of our energy currently comes from renewable sources?

In 1991, renewables accounted for just 2% of all electricity generation in the UK. By 2013 this figure had risen to 14.6%.

In 2019, zero-carbon electricity production overtook fossil fuels for the first time, and on 17 August renewable generation hit the highest share ever at 85.1% (wind 39%, solar 25%, nuclear 20% and hydro 1%).

In 2022, renewable energy contributed the following:

  • Wind power contributed 26.8% of the UK’s total electricity generation. In November 2022, more than 20 GW of electricity was produced by wind for the first time, representing over 70% of electricity generated on that day. Since then, this record has continued to be broken, with 30 December delivering the largest generation to date of 20.918GW.

  • Biomass energy, the burning of renewable organic materials, contributed 5.2% to the renewable mix.

  • Solar power contributed 4.4% to the renewable mix

  • Hydropower, including tidal, contributed 1.8% to the renewable mix.

How long will it take to switch to renewable energy?

It’s important to remember that the aim is not for renewables to be our sole provider of energy, but they will play a major part in the energy mix alongside other clean energy sources.

It’s anticipated that the UK’s renewable capacity will increase dramatically over the next decade. Plans are already in action to increase offshore wind’s output from 11GW to 50GW by 2030 – helped by a £200 million government cash injection and financial incentives. Meanwhile, solar capacity could grow five-fold from 14GW to roughly 70GW in the same period.

Combine renewables with other low-carbon electricity sources, such as nuclear (16%), and it indicates that our green infrastructure is heading in the right direction to be capable of reaching net zero in the specified time frames.

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  1. We need the government to lift the block on onshore wind in England though!