UK: Solar grows 93% in 2014 as renewables overtake nuclear

Official data from the U.K. government has confirmed that renewable energy contributed more to the grid than nuclear power for the first time ever in 2014.

The statistics show that renewables accounted for 19.2% of electricity generation last year, ahead of nuclear power, which generated 19% of the country’s electricity.

Total renewable electricity capacity at the end of the year stood at 24.2 GW, which was 4.5 GW – or 23% – more than a year previously.

Although solar PV’s share of renewable generation was a mere 6%, the industry’s participation in electricity generation grew a massive 93% last year, boosted by the 2.8 GW of solar PV capacity added over the course of 2014. Solar PV powered 3.9 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity. No other renewable energy source grew as fast.

The single biggest green electricity technology feeding the U.K. grid is bioenergy, which contributed 36% of the 64.4 TWh of renewable power in 2014. Onshore wind capacity accounted for 28% of the total, with offshore wind at 21% and hydropower adding 9%.

Meanwhile, coal-fired power plants accounted for 29% of electricity generation, a fall of 26% in the space of a single year, leaving gas as the leading source of electrical power, accounting for 30.2%.

Over the course of 2014, the U.K. actually consumed 4.3% less electricity last year than in 2013, with warmer weather and improved energy efficiency measures cited as the reasons for this decline.

This trend for increased renewables and falling coal use gives an encouraging indication of what could be achieved in the very near future, said Greenpeace U.K. chief scientist Doug Parr, particularly if government continues to support renewable and "phases out the dirtiest fossil fuels".

"Last year, U.K. carbon emissions fell dramatically while the economy grew faster than it has in any year since 2007," said Parr. "This is further evidence, if it was needed, that efforts to cut carbon pollution and boost our economy can go hand in hand."

In Scotland, 2014 saw renewable energy meet close to 50% of the country’s electricity demand, with Solar PV, biomass, wind and hydropower each hitting record levels of production. Far and away the dominant clean energy source north of the border, however, is onshore wind, which powered 30% of Scotland’s electricity needs.

"Renewable electricity generation continues to go from strength to strength in Scotland, and I am pleased we have almost met our 50% renewable electricity target a year ahead of schedule," said Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Energy Minister. "Harnessing Scotland’s vast energy wealth has multiple benefits – reducing our carbon emissions, creating jobs and investment, and helping keep the lights on across these islands."

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, said: "2014 was truly record breaking year for low carbon generation. Our plan to decarbonise the economy while it grows is working – we’ve reduced our emissions by 8%, increased the amount of electricity we’re getting from renewables and seen the economy grow at the same time. It is crucial we continue to build a low carbon energy sector based on home grown sources, as it is crucial to improving our energy security, as well as stimulating economic growth and reducing emissions."