Manufacturing helps the UK reach record levels of renewable energy production

Wind farm technology designed at UK manufacturing plants helped the UK to achieve major falls in CO2 emissions from the UK power sector.

The capacity of offshore wind farms nearly doubled over 2018. One new wind farm, the Walney Extension, is the largest offshore wind farm in the world.
The capacity of offshore wind farms nearly doubled over 2018. One new wind farm, the Walney Extension, is the largest offshore wind farm in the world – image courtesy of Scottish Power.

Renewable energy made up a record 33% of UK energy production in 2018 even while total electricity consumption fell, according to analysis from a major climate and energy news blog.

Carbon Brief also say the amount of electricity generated per person fell to its lowest level since 1994 and that renewable energy has been one of the two largest contributors to cutting CO2 emissions from the UK power sector.

In the last year, the capacity of offshore wind farms nearly doubled, while solar and biomass generation both increased by over 10% respectively.

Four offshore wind farms were opened in 2018, including the Walney Extension, the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Phase 1 of the project involved MHI Vestas manufacturing turbine blades at its Isle of Wight facility while Siemens Gamesa’ Green Port Hull facility manufactured blades for the second phase of the project.

Roxtec UK manufactured all the cable seals for the Rampion Offshore Wind Farm, based off the Sussex coast. The Bury-based company also delivered cable transit systems for the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm.

In total, the four offshore wind farms provide enough energy to power 1.5 million homes and have provided thousands of manufacturing jobs. With the arrival of a new blade mould at the company’s Isle of Wight factory, MHI Vestas expects an extra 1,100 new jobs will be created at its factory.

A SunEdison solar project - image courtesy of SunEdison and PRNewsWire.
Solar generation increased by 11% in the UK in 2018. This year, the company OxfordPV hopes to put the first perovskite-silicon module in the field – image courtesy of SunEdison and PRNewsWire.

Speaking to the Guardian, the analysis’ author Simon Evans said greater renewable energy usage as well as more efficient energy usage has caused the reduction in carbon emissions and that this combination will help the UK achieve its carbon targets. He said: “Using less as an end in itself isn’t the point. But it is the case that meeting carbon targets is made easier if we use energy efficiently.”

Biomass generation also increased by 13% in 2018. This was due to the former Lynemouth coal plant reopening to run on imported wood pellets and Drax in Yorkshire converting a fourth unit to burn the fuel.

Solar generation also increased last year, although by the slightly lower percentage of 11%. The rate of solar generation increase has slowed since the UK government announced in 2015 that they were going to phase out the feed-in-tariff scheme that cut the cost of solar panel installations. The subsidy will close in April.

Despite this slowing growth, British manufacturing was at the forefront of solar cell innovation. OxfordPV is the world’s largest company to focus exclusively on developing and commercialising a perovskite-based solar technology. It achieved a world record 28% conversion efficiency for its solar panels and hope to put the first perovskite-silicon module in the field this year.

Carbon Brief’s analysis of UK electricity generation in 2018 is based on figures from BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Other findings from the analysis showed that despite rising electricity and gas prices, average UK energy bills have fallen overall since 2008.


Reporting by Harry Wise