Full scale of British wind power laid bare as UK free from Russian gas

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Britain has been producing record amounts of electricity from wind this winter after a year of unprecedented growth for the sector. The UK is in fact the global leader when it comes to offshore wind – the world’s largest wind farm becoming operational last summer just off the coast of Yorkshire. In 2022, wind provided just over a quarter of the country’s electricity, but this share is bound to increase in 2023, wind accounting for over half of all production so far this year.

Over the past 30 years, gas became the UK’s single largest source of power generation, surging from less than 0.1 percent in 1990 to 39.8 percent in 2021, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Formerly the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, Russia began restricting outflow to international markets in the wake of sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, sending prices skyrocketing.

Last year, the Government rapidly phased out all imports of Russian fuels, including the 4.9 percent share of natural gas sourced from the country, threatening to raise the price further.

Although the energy bill burden on British households this winter is unprecedented, matters would have been far worse if it weren’t for the UK’s record-breaking wind power sector.

According to the National Grid ESO – the company running the country’s power infrastructure – wind generated a record 21.6 gigawatts (GW) of electricity during a half-hour period on Tuesday evening.

This comes hot on the heels of the two previous records set this winter – 20.92GW on December 30 and 20.90GW on November 2.

On Wednesday, Dan McGrail, CEO of trade association RenewableUK, said: “Throughout this blustery winter, wind is taking a leading role as our major power source, setting new records time and time again.

“This is good news for billpayers and businesses, as wind is our cheapest source of new power and reduces the UK’s use of expensive fossil fuels which are driving up energy bills. With public support for renewables also hitting new record highs, it’s clear we should be trying to maximise new investment in renewables to increase our energy security.”

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Earlier this week, the National Grid ESO announced that the percentage of zero-carbon electricity – coming from wind, solar and hydroelectric sources – briefly hit a record 87.6 percent. A decade ago these sources made up barely 11 percent of the UK’s energy mix.

This comes after what has been a golden year for renewables in the UK, driven primarily by increases in wind production capacity and favourable weather conditions.

Throughout the whole of 2022, wind power met over a quarter of the UK’s electricity demand (26.8 percent) for the first time, up from 21.9 percent the year before.

British wind farms produced just under 74,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) in total last year – enough to power 19 million British homes, according to the National Grid ESO.

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According to the latest Energy Trends report by the BEIS, renewable generation grew by 3.4GW (18 percent) in the year to September, the vast majority of which – a record 2.8GW – being added to the UK’s wind capacity.

Last August, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, Hornsea 2, opened off the coast of Yorkshire in the North Sea. Set up by energy company Orsted, the 165-turbine site generates enough electricity to power 1.4 million homes – equivalent to the entire city of Manchester.

“The UK is truly a world leader in offshore wind and the completion of Hornsea 2 is a tremendous milestone for the offshore wind industry, not just in the UK but globally,” said Duncan Clark, Head of Region UK at Orsted.

He added: “Not only will Hornsea 2 provide low-cost, clean energy for millions of homes in the UK, it has also delivered thousands of high-quality jobs and billions of pounds of investment in the UK’s offshore wind supply chain.”

The UK Government has established 2050 as a target year by which to reach net zero emissions. However, despite wind generation ramping up at pace, gas will not easily be dethroned as the UK’s primary source of electricity generation.

Britain’s gas-fired power plants still produced more than any other source last year at 38.5 percent, according to the BEIS. Over the course of the past week however, the National Grid’s live tables show 53.2 percent of the UK’s electricity was generated by wind, to just 13.9 percent by gas.

The emergence of wind as well as falling wholesale gas prices – which are now below where they were at the outset of the war in Ukraine – have spurred hopes that household energy bills may soon be driven down.

The current price cap – in place since January 1 – is set at £4,279, but UK bill-payers are protected by the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee (EPG), set at £2,500 since November.

Although the Chancellor announced this would rise to £3,000 a year from April, the latest analysis from consultancy Cornwall Insight predicts typical household bills would fall to £2,800 a year come July.

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