The UK is getting more of its electricity from renewable sources than ever before, with 2022 seeing a record-breaking 40% of all electricity generated in the UK coming from a renewable source.
In 2021, 35% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources, meaning there was a 14% year-on-year increase. This was achieved thanks to a mix of renewable power sources, which included wind, solar, biomass and hydro.
The increase in renewable generation comes at a pivotal time for the UK, as energy prices soar as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has seen the price of natural gas skyrocket. The use of renewable energy sources can help avoid the ever-fluctuating prices of fossil fuels, as the fuel for these sources is often free.
While some critics have warned that an increasing reliance on renewable energy sources could see the UK grid face tighter margins as the weather changes, 2022 has largely been a successful demonstration for the UK’s net zero future. In fact, at one stage in May 2022, 72.8% of the UK’s electricity was being generated by renewable power sources, while wind farms generated a landmark 20GW of electricity for the first time.
The success of renewables within the UK has also helped the country become a net exporter of electricity for the first time in more than a decade. Electricity exports quadrupled from last year to 17.2 TWh of electricity — generating around £3.1bn for the UK economy. The country exported a net total of 1.9TWh, representing a dramatic swing in power trading from the previous year when Britain instead imported a net total of 22.9TWh.
Despite the record supply of cheap renewable electricity, the unprecedented rise in the cost of gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent power prices to a new all-time high. The fossil fuel supplied 42% of the country’s power this year, its largest share of the fuel mix since 2016. Britain is on course to have an annual average wholesale price above £200 per MWh for the first time ever in 2022 – up from £113 the year before. This is nearly six times higher than the cost of electricity in 2020 (£34 per MWh).
However, a future dominated by renewables could help bring that price back down to sustainable levels, while also achieving a reduction in carbon emissions. In fact, in 2022 alone, renewable energy sources helped cut carbon emissions by 2.7 million tonnes.
Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, and lead author of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report series, commented, “This has been a year like no other for the energy industry. The public are feeling the pain of high gas prices on their energy bills even though renewables are providing the grid with more cheap, green electricity than ever before.
“The lesson from 2022 is that we need to break our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all if we want lower cost and more secure energy supplies. If we had not invested in wind, solar and biomass over the last decade our energy bills would have been even higher, as would the risk of blackouts over winter.
“The energy crisis cannot be solved by increasing our reliance on gas imported from abroad. We need to turbocharge our investment in clean energy technologies to become Europe’s renewable electricity powerhouse, which will cut fuel bills at home and bring money into the economy by exporting power to our neighbouring countries.”