UK Renewables Bust Out A Big Quarter

Renewable energy as a share of the electricity generated in the United Kingdom surged in the second quarter, reaching 15.5 percent, a whopping 5.8 percentage points higher than in the same quarter in 2012 [PDF].

The increased renewable energy – 12.8 terawatt-hours, up from 8.2 TWh in 2012 Q2, came from all across the spectrum: onshore wind was up 70 percent, offshore wind 51 percent, biomass 56 percent and solar PV 22 percent.

wind power united kingdom

Wind turbines in Scotland (image via Wikimedia Commons)

“This confirms what we have been seeing for some time, which is renewables steadily becoming more important in meeting our electricity needs, and wind being responsible for the lion’s share of the progress,” Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of the trade group RenewableUK, said in a statement. “That this period coincided with one of the coldest springs on record means that wind was providing this power at a crucial time.”

It was a combination of factors that drove up renewables’ share so dramatically. For one thing, overall generation was down, so renewables’ were a piece of a smaller pie. Capacity, too, was higher, with an additional 5.3 gigawatts of renewable energy online this year compared to a year ago.

We’ve written about big wind additions in the U.K., and there were plenty of those, but biomass was a player as well. There’s been a move in Europe to convert coal-fired power plants to biomass – how environmentally beneficial that might be is controversial – and in the second quarter this year, 654 MW of new U.K. renewables capacity came from one such conversion.

Another factor was better performance from the U.K.’s vast fleet of wind power plants. Onshore plants operated at a 25.4 percent capacity factor (vs. 19.5 in 2012 Q2) and offshore plants operated at 32.7 percent capacity factor (vs. 31.8 percent a year ago). Over the past nine quarters, onshore wind capacity factors have averaged about 26 percent, ranging from a quarterly low of 19.3 percent to a high of 37.4 percent. Offshore wind overall is around 35 percent, ranging from a low of 29.5 percent to a high of 49.8 percent.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.