There are many milestones to pass in the transition from high to low carbon sustainable energy system. There will be the first time without coal, or oil, or gas generation (or all of them together) and the point when the last coal, oil or gas power plant (or all of them together) will finally retire.
Another key highlight is the first year when renewables generate more electricity than fossil fuels. For the past three months we have been tracking data for Great Britain (not Northern Ireland, which shares an electricity grid with the Republic of Ireland) and we believe it is on track to pass this milestone in 2023, but it’s almost too late. .
Using the broadest definition, renewables actually outperformed fossil fuels in the odd, COVID-affected year of 2020 (though not in the subsequent years of 2021 and 2022). However, that includes 5% or more of Britain’s electricity generated by “biomass” plants (which burn wood pellets, which are mostly imported from America’s forests).
Trees can regrow, so biomass is considered renewable. But the industry has its critics and it cannot be changed globally in the same way as “weather-dependent” changes: wind, solar and to a certain degree hydropower.
If we use this narrower, time-dependent definition that is more appropriate for a global transition, then there is a very good chance that these renewables will overtake fossil fuels for the first time since 2023. In once this milestone has passed, we also think it unlikely (though not impossible) that gas and coal will once again generate more electricity in Britain than wind, solar and hydro over the course of a year.
If Britain passes the 2023 milestone it will come in the last few days of the year (from here we’ll use “renewables” to refer to the wider, non-biomass sense).
The chart above can be used to track progress and update the latest data daily. The lines show the running total difference between how much electricity is generated by renewables and fossil fuels.
If the line is increasing, it shows more renewables than fossil fuels for that period. The horizontal axis shows the day of the year, therefore, if at any point the line is above the zero axis, that indicates that the year so far has more renewable than fossil fuel generation. If the red line ends the year above zero, then Britain has reached the milestone.
(One caveat is that we know from the official statistics published later that there are some differences from the “lost” and estimates for the embedded generation; it usually amounts to only about 1% -2% of the final total.)
It depends on the weather
As we write this, with ten days of data remaining in 2023, renewables are only slightly ahead (at over 1,000 GW at the same level as a peak electricity demand day). However, if they come first, it depends on the weather, especially the wind.
The reasoning here is that Britain uses less electricity during the holiday period due to less industrial and commercial demand. Because wind energy is clean and becoming cheaper, it tends to be used first, meaning that if the demand is low or there is enough wind there is less need to generate electricity using fossil fuels.
There are nuances around this such as where the generation is located, and the amount of electricity imported from other countries, but the general principle of renewables taking market share from fossil fuels is a factor in Britain’s electrical market.
An important area to highlight is the continued decline in electricity demand. 2023 is on track to have lower demand than 2022, which is lower than the year affected by COVID in 2020 (against our forecasts) due to record prices. Reduced electricity demand means that additional generation is not needed, much of which inevitably comes from fossil fuels.
More milestones likely to be passed as well
However, 2023 will be the first year in which renewable generation exceeds household electricity demand (houses make up 36% of total electricity demand). This means that the annual electricity generated by Britain’s wind turbines, solar panels and hydro resources is now greater than that used in a year by its 29 million households.
The bar chart above shows the trend towards this point since 2009. In the first half of 2023, renewable output is lower than domestic electrical demand by 1.5 TWh (1500 GWh), but strong renewable performance since then means that it is likely to end the year with a total generation in excess of household demand.
If any of the milestones described here do not happen for 2023, then they will almost certainly happen in 2024, when another 1.7 GW of offshore wind capacity will start to be created and Britain’s last coal-fired power station is scheduled to be built. which stops producing electricity completely.
Provided by The Conversation
This article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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