UK electricity generation in 2022
2022 was one of the greenest years on record for electricity generation – second only to 2020, where several lockdowns helped reduce carbon consumption drastically.
In 2022 more electricity came from renewable and nuclear power sources than from fossil fuels and overall wind power was the second largest source of electricity, breaking new records.
Decarbonisation – a UK success story
The UK has a legally binding target to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the energy industry will play a pivotal role in achieving this. The power sector has already cut emissions by two-thirds since 1990, thanks to a huge growth in renewables and the steep decline in the use of coal for electricity generation.
Decarbonising other sectors, such as heat and transport, will rely on increased electrification, increased system flexibility, and developing technologies.
With the Government’s commitment to decarbonising the UK power system by 2035 subject to security of supply, a crucial part of our energy system transition will involve harnessing the power and potential of renewable generation.
Renewable electricity growth is accelerating faster than ever before worldwide. Technology innovation has enabled rapid cost reductions, far surpassing expectations, and wind and solar are now much cheaper sources of generation than fossil fuels.
The UK has led the world in decarbonising its power system, and can further accelerate the growth of renewables by addressing key barriers, such as planning, permitting and regulatory processes, improving grid infrastructure, and ensuring a coordinated approach.
With record-high international gas prices, a rapid expansion of UK renewable capacity will help to ensure energy security and enable us to reach Net Zero cheaper, and faster.
Today, renewable energy sources (such as onshore and offshore wind, solar, tidal, biomass and hydro) make-up a significant proportion of the electricity mix that powers UK homes and businesses.
Expanding our sources of clean, domestic power like onshore wind and solar is proven to be the quickest and cheapest route to energy security and lower consumer bills.
Thanks to windy coastlines and shallow seabed, the UK has led the development of offshore wind. World-leading research and testing capabilities has enabled us to develop several of the world’s largest offshore wind farms, as well as floating turbine technology which allows wind farms to be developed in deeper waters.
The cost of offshore wind is less than a third of what is was a decade ago and the UK Government rightly recognises the importance of offshore wind in achieving Net Zero, through setting the ambitious target of 50GW of offshore wind by 2030. Energy UK is committed to working with both Government and industry to ensure the UK maximises the potential of the North Sea ‘powerhouse’ through the development of more offshore wind; thereby meeting this important target.
Delivery of onshore wind projects is significantly quicker and cheaper than other forms of energy generation, which will help reduce our reliance on gas more quickly. Onshore wind is currently six times cheaper than gas.
The CCC has recommended that the UK should install 35GW of onshore wind by 2035, and analysis from RenewableUK showed that doubling the UK’s onshore wind capacity to 30GW by 2030 would reduce consumer bills by £16.3 billion over the course of this decade – which is an annual saving of £25 for every household. This is a particularly important aspect in what is currently an especially challenging economic environment for consumers.
Onshore wind brings down bills, is popular and vital for UK energy security
Solar PV is now the cheapest source of electricity around the world – including in the UK, where the cost of utility scale solar has fallen in cost by 88% since 2010, and the cost of rooftop solar panels has declined by as much as 60% since 2010. At the same time, the efficiency of solar panels continues to improve.
Solar energy can at times provide close to 30% of the UK’s electricity demand. Installing more solar generation capacity will therefore help the UK to become more energy self-sufficient, while directly helping to bring down bills for everyone.
Public support for solar is very strong and this was recently demonstrated by BEIS polling on public attitudes which showed the level of support for solar is consistently high with 89% of the public in support (Autumn 2022).
Natural gas will remain an important transition fuel as we decarbonise our power system. As well as gas being used as the main source of heating for our homes and businesses, natural gas is currently used to offset periods of low wind and a lack of flexibility, directly contributing to the UK’s security of supply.
The commitment to phase-out unabated gas is backed by the UK energy industry, and to support this commitment, actions to enable investment in all forms of flexibility needs to be accelerated. This will support a system based on a higher proportion of renewable generation, enabling the phase-out of unabated gas.
Electricity in the UK is also generated from nuclear, in which uranium atoms are split up to produce heat and steam to rotate turbines using a process known as nuclear fission. Nuclear power has a vital role to play in both bolstering our energy independence and reaching our climate change targets through the supply of dependable, low-carbon energy.
The UK has an ambition of 24GW of nuclear capacity by 2050, and is building its first nuclear power station in more than 20 years, at Hinkley Point C, as well as plans to build Sizewell C which could generate enough electricity to power 6 million homes.
In addition to Sizewell C, the Government has recently put over £200 million into researching Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), with two planned as part of the next nuclear fleet. The recently announced Great British Nuclear which has been set up to enable nuclear projects and support the UK’s nuclear industry will be running a competition on SMRs to be completed in 2023. The winner will receive further backing from Government.
Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)
Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage is the process for taking carbon at the point of emission in order to store the carbon or to use it in other processes.
CCUS technology could be paired with existing gas-fired power plants to remove emissions while burning natural gas, or in the production of blue hydrogen.
The UK government has earmarked up to £20billion to support CCUS projects, which could support up to 50,000 private-sector jobs, and drive capture of carbon dioxide emissions of 20 million to 30 million tonnes a year by 2030.
As we continue to decarbonise power generation in the UK, many companies are looking to hydrogen as an alternative fuel for gas-powered generation. This could be accomplished by pairing carbon capture technology with natural gas to produce hydrogen, or by utilising excess renewable energy to produce hydrogen through electrolysis. The UK has set the target of achieving 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.
The 600MW Hydrogen to Humber (H2H) Saltend project – located at Saltend Chemicals Park (pictured) could be one of the UK’s – and the world’s – first at-scale facilities to produce hydrogen from natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The UK’s electricity network is connected to energy systems in France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Norway through sub-sea high-voltage cables called Electricity Interconnectors. At present, there are eight operational interconnections which the UK uses to import or export electricity when it is most economical, during times of high demand and/or system stress.
Interconnectors provide critical flexibility enabling excess power (such as that generated from wind and solar farms) to be traded and shared between countries, rather than curtailed. As such, interconnectors play a significant role in contributing towards security of energy supply, in helping both the UK and European nations to reach Net Zero faster, and in reducing the overall cost of energy to consumers.