First the good news…
It was great to see yet another encouraging start to the year regarding how the UK generates its electricity. The renewable energy sector continues to expand, led by the wind industry.
Now for the bad news…
Sadly, we don’t yet have the capacity to deal with all that wind power. So wind farms are paid to switch off and gas-powered stations are paid to fire up, with the cost of “wind curtailment” passed on to consumers.
How does that work?
Analysis from Carbon Brief, a UK-based website covering developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy, revealed that electricity generated from fossil fuels fell 22% year-on-year in 2023 to the lowest level since 1957. The government target is 95% low carbon electricity by 2030 and a fully decarbonised grid by 2035.
The 104 terawatt hours (TWh) from fossil fuels in 2023 is the lowest in 66 years and has fallen by two-thirds (199TWh) from a peak in 2008. All made possible by the growth of renewable energy and lower electricity demand (down 21% since 2008, some 83TWh).
In total, 135TWh of renewable electricity was generated in 2023, made up of:
- 82TWh from wind (up 2TWh year-on-year, a 2% increase)
- 35TWh from bioenergy (down 5TWh and 13% from 2021 levels)
- 14TWh from solar (up 2% year-on-year)
- 5TWh from hydro (down 1TWh year-on-year, a 9% drop)
So why can’t we cope?
Considering that wind power is the biggest single contributor to that list by some margin, it’s a shame that we are still not in a position to take full advantage of the benefits. A report from the BBC points out that wasted wind power added £40 to the average household energy bill in 2023… with warnings that the figure could rise to £150 by 2026.
According to Carbon Tracker, which studies the impact of climate change of financial markets, says when it is very windy the UK grid cannot handle the extra power generated. This is due in part to wind farms being built faster than the power cable network required to transmit electricity from one part of the UK to another.
Carbon Tracker produced a report last year which said Britain was wasting enough wind generation to power a million homes because investments in (and planning approvals for) grid upgrades are not keeping up with the growth of wind power development.
The cost of playing catch-up
The government says reforms will reduce the time it takes to build new networks to cope with extra wind power and regulator Ofgem recently announced new rules designed to improve grid connections.
Unfortunately, it’s a costly example of playing catch-up. Until our infrastructure can keep pace with innovation, we will continue to miss out on the full potential of new developments.