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2020 Greenest Year Ever for Electricity Generation

Wind turbine on hill generating green electricity

For most of us, 2020 was a year to forget. However, there has been at least one positive to come out of the last twelve months.

Last year was the greenest on record for electricity production, according to National Grid ESO (Electricity System Operator) data. This continues a trend that has seen emissions from the electricity system fall by 66% over the last seven years.

The data is based on the measure of CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour (kWh), also known as the carbon intensity of the grid. Last year’s average carbon intensity was 181g CO2/kWh, compared to 215g in 2019 and 248g in 2018.

The drop in carbon emissions was aided both by a reduction in electricity demand due to the coronavirus pandemic and a record-breaking year for renewable energy generation.

Spring 2020 saw Britain’s longest coal-free stretch since the industrial revolution, with the grid generating electricity without coal for almost 68 days between 10 April and 16 June - a total of 1,630 hours.

How was electricity generated in 2020?

The strong performance of wind, solar and other renewables in 2020 saw sustainable energy sources make up more of the electricity mix than ever before. Wind contributed a record 60% on 26 August while solar power also hit new heights, providing up to a third of the country’s electricity on several days during May.

Coal generated just 1.6% of all electricity in 2020, down from almost 25% just five years ago. However, gas still made up the majority of the mix, at 34.7%. As such, Britain will still require a huge increase in renewable energy generation to stay on track to hit its net-zero emissions pledge by 2050.

Source: National Grid ESO

Rob Rome, interim head of national control at National Grid ESO, said: “2020 has been a record-breaking year for Great Britain’s electricity system. The grid continues to transform at an astonishing rate as we move away from fossil fuel generation and harness the growth of renewable power sources.

“In our role balancing Britain’s electricity supply and demand, we’re continuously innovating with industry to improve the grid’s resilience and make sure it’s ready to exploit the potential of these renewables.

“It’s an exciting time, and the progress we’re seeing with these records underlines the significant strides we’re taking towards our ambition of being able to operate the system carbon-free by 2025.

“That 2025 ambition is a stretching target. Last year gave us a flavour of some of the challenges ahead, as our control room worked 24/7 to operate the electricity system in unprecedented conditions.

“But I’m proud to say every action we’ve taken has delivered safe, secure and reliable low carbon electricity at the same time as minimising costs for consumers.”

  • 2020: A Record-Breaking Year for Green Electricity
  • 10 April-16 June: Longest ever coal-free period
  • 20 April: Highest ever level of solar power (9.7GW)
  • 24 May: Lowest ever carbon intensity (46g CO2/kWh)
  • 30 May: Highest ever share of solar power (34%)
  • May: Greenest month on record (143g CO2/kWh)
  • 26 August: Highest ever share of wind power (59.9%)
  • 18 December: Highest ever level of wind power (17.2GW)
  • Total coal-free hours: 5,147 hours

Source: National Grid ESO

What can I do to cut my own emissions?

With the arrival of a vaccine and a return to at least a degree of normality hoped for as the year progresses, energy usage is expected to rise once again in 2021. One simple way to decrease your own carbon emissions is by ensuring that your home electricity comes from renewable sources.

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