Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – A new study commissioned by the UK private electric utility Drax and carried out by professors at Imperial College London has confirmed that in the first quarter of this year, wind turbines in Britain generated more electricity than did fossil gas plants. This is the first time the UK got more electricity from a renewable source than from gas, and it could mark a major turning point.
Just about one third (32.4%) of the United Kingdom’s electricity was sourced from wind power during Q1, while fossil gas only generated 31.7%
Britain got so much power from wind in those three months that it could have charged 300 million Teslas.
Drax quotes one of its power station plant directors, Bruce Heppenstall, as saying, “This is a remarkable achievement for the UK, and it comes at a vital time when cutting the use of foreign gas is critical to our national energy security.”
This quote helps provide some context for why it is so important that British wind outdid imported fossil gas. This development comes in the midst of the Ukraine War, which has caused a huge spike in fossil gas prices that has hurt the pocketbook of every European this winter. Without wind power, Britain would have seen even bigger outlays for fossil gas. The UK banned Russian gas imports as of the first of this year.
Britain gets 50% of its fossil gas from its own North Sea fields, but imports the rest from Norway, the US and Qatar, among other countries. Russia used to be a supplier, but PM Rishi Sunak has stopped imports from Moscow, which nowadays often come with political strings attached.
Over all, 42% of British electricity derived from renewable sources.The United States gets only 23% of its electricity from renewables.
Wind power in the UK has already killed coal, which has dwindled to insignificance in the British grid after having dominated it for over a century. Could fossil gas be its next victim?
Drax quotes Professor Iain Staffel, the lead author of the study, as saying “wind out-supplying gas for the first time is a genuine milestone event, and shows what can be achieved when governments create a good environment for investors in clean technology.”
The UK has 28 gigawatts of wind power now, 14 gigs onshore and 14 gigs offshore. It wants 50 gigawatts from offshore wind alone by 2050.
But it is estimated that Britain already has 99.8 gigawatts of offshore wind power in the pipeline, across 130 projects.
In other words, fossil gas will go on shrinking as a source of electricity for the U.K.