UK: solar outshines hydro, drives down coal in 2015

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Solar PV pumped 7.1TWh of electricity into Britain’s electricity grids in 2015, surpassing hydro (6.84TWh) for the first time. Wind electricity production also grew sharply, to 32.4TWh, along with biomass, with 19TWh.

Renewables across all sources accounted for 65.4TWh, or 21%, of total electricity supply in the UK in 2015, only a fraction behind nuclear power at 21.1%.

The solar PV result surprising, because if you look at the DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] forecasts for solar output, it wasn’t expected to hit these levels until 2020 to 2030 at least,” EnAppSys’ Rob Lalor, an energy analyst and one of the report authors told pv magazine, “We’ve seen a lot more solar earlier than expected.”

The solar component includes PV power plants and rooftop arrays. EnAppSys expects solar’s contribution to continue to grow in 2016, by something approaching 20%, in terms of power output.

Importantly, renewables in the UK appears to be supplanting coal fired electricity in the country’s grids, with coal generation levels falling sharply to 24% of total generation, down from 31% in 2014.

“Despite a fourth quarter increase in coal-fired power generation as a number of coal units returned to service following maintenance outages, coal’s contribution to Great Britain’s electricity generation fell to its lowest level since 1951 – a period when overall power generation was much lower.”

Fossil fuel share fell to 51% of total generation in 2015, resulting in a decline of carbon emissions from approximately 106Mt in 2014, to 88.7Mt.

“Since 1948, coal fired power stations have provided over half of the country’s electricity generation, but this picture is now changing rapidly with the growing emergence of wind, solar and biomass,” said EnAppSys director Paul Verrill, in a statement.

“Renewable sources now provide almost as much electricity as nuclear plants and are expected to overtake them during 2016 as the Wylfa nuclear plant closes and as new wind and solar projects come on stream.

“The ongoing closure of coal stations and the Government’s stance against them perhaps marks the end of an era for coal stations which have dominated the Great Britain power market since its inception, with coal-fired generation at its lowest level since 1951.”

DECC data has revealed that a rush of solar installation is currently underway in the UK at present, in anticipation of FIT cuts and the expiry of subsidy schemes.