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The UK's big picture – renewables up, coal down again in 2019

The rise of renewables – particularly offshore wind – and the demise of coal were once again the most striking trends in the UK energy scene in 2019. 

Renewables’ share of the total electricity generation rose to 37% over the year, while coal production, imports and use as a fuel for power generation all fell to historically low levels. 

Natural gas was the most important – and rising – fuel for power generation. Statistics released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) show that:
  • Total energy production was 0.5% lower than in 2018; the first fall since 2014 was due to rises in output from oil, bioenergy and waste, wind, solar and hydro being offset by falls from coal, gas and nuclear.
  • Imports in 2019 were 2.1% lower than in 2018, whilst exports fell by 0.3%.
  • Crude oil and natural gas liquids production was 1.8% higher than in 2018; natural gas production was 2.2% lower.
  • Coal production was 16% lower than in 2018, and at a record low level, mainly due to lower demand for electricity generation. Imports of coal in 2019 were 33% lower.  Final energy consumption (excluding non-energy use) was 1.1% lower than in 2018. On a temperature adjusted basis it is estimated to have fallen by 0.8%.
  • Electricity generation in 2019 fell by 2.8%, to 324 TWh, with falls in generation from coal and nuclear offset by an increase from renewables, primarily bioenergy, wind and solar generation.
  • Of electricity generated in 2019, gas accounted for 41% (up 1.4% compared to 2018) and coal 2.1% (a fall of 2.9%). The nuclear share decreased by 2.2% on 2018 to 17%, due to plant outages. 
  • Renewable electricity generation was 119 TWh in 2019, a record high and an increase of 8.5% on 2018, largely due to increased generating capacity. Renewables’ share of electricity generation increased by 3.8% to 37%, also a record high, due to higher renewable generation and lower overall electricity generation. 
  • Renewable electricity capacity was 47 GW at the end of 2019, a 3.0 GW rise on a year earlier, with half of the increase from offshore wind.
  • Low carbon electricity’s share of generation increased from 53% UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were estimated to be 352mn tonnes, 3.9% lower than those for 2018 in 2018 to a record high of 54% in 2019. 
BEIS also issued estimates of 2019 UK greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, UK net emissions of carbon dioxide were estimated to be 352mn tonnes, 3.9% lower than those for 2018. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for 81% of total UK emissions in 2019. 

The decrease was driven by the continuing downward trend in emissions from power stations, with a 13% decrease between 2018 and 2019. 

There was also a 2.8% fall in carbon dioxide emissions from transport, which fell for the second year in a row following several years of increases. Transport nevertheless remains the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, accounting for 34% in 2019, says BEIS. 

Focusing on renewables-rich Scotland, an impressive 90% of Scotland’s electricity consumption now comes from renewable sources – an increase of 14% year-on-year. Scotland has a target of 100% renewables by 2020; a figure that could still be met, according to trade association Scottish Renewables.  

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