The switch from traditional fuel sources to renewable energy has been a big deal for a long time now. Not only are fossil fuels like gas and oil bad for the planet, but they’re getting more and more expensive as stocks run low – so it’s in everyone’s best interests to keep an eye on how our energy supply is changing. The UK government has just released its annual set of statistics explaining how energy use changed in 2019.
A little over three quarters (78.3%) of the UK energy supply is from fossil fuels. That figure has been getting steadily lower for several years, and this is its lowest ever level. The figure is only dropping by about 1% each year, but considering that’s the equivalent of over a million tonnes of oil, even a small change makes a big difference. Looking at the trend over the long term it’s even bigger. A million tonnes of oil each year for ten years has a big environmental impact.
Fossil fuel use is dropping because we’re using more renewable energy from sources like solar, wind and wave power, as well as biomass (anything from purpose-grown crops to food and farm waste). Renewables accounted for 12.3% of the energy used in the last year. That’s cleaner, greener, and the more popular renewable energy becomes, the lower the price gets too.
Because total fuel use includes things like vehicle fuels, just looking at the total level misses out a few important details. Most of the switch from coal and gas to renewables is down to the way we produce electricity. That’s another trend that’s been happening for several years, and it continued in 2019. Renewables make up 12.3% of all the energy used, but 37.1% of all electricity. This is the first time ever that renewables have made up over a third of all electricity used (in 2018 they accounted for 33.1%).
Specifically, we’re using a lot less coal – less than half of what we used in 2018 (down 59%), and replacing it with electricity from renewable sources. At the same time, the UK’s capacity to produce electricity from wind, solar (even in the notoriously grey UK), and biomass has grown. The shift to renewables is relatively recent: in 2009 they made up just 6.7% of all UK electricity, so that’s a growth of 30.4% in just ten years.
There’s no reason to think that trend will change any time soon. Renewables are a major part of UK electricity production for the foreseeable future, and very likely an increasingly important part, at that.
The only part of the energy mix that hasn’t really changed is gas, which makes up fractionally more of the energy mix than it did in 2018, but it’s a tiny change compared to the increased use of renewables.
CO2 emissions are a major cause of environmental harm and also a health hazard. They contribute to extreme weather, wildfires, bad harvests of some types of crops, and they’re also linked to respiratory disease from smog and air pollution. So it’s great news that the increased use of renewable energy – a clean energy source, that produces less CO2 – means a drop in overall CO2 emissions. The shift away from coal has made a major difference: this year’s figures suggest emissions have dropped by 3.9% in the last year. Again, this doesn’t sound like much but that’s 14.2 million tonnes less CO2 entering the environment.
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