The stranglehold that fossil fuels have over the energy sector – and indeed the climate – looks to finally have been broken, with the latest figures indicating that Britain now generates more power from zero-carbon sources than gas and coal.
Over the first five months of 2019, renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, and nuclear power inched ahead of fossil fuels as the UK’s main generators of electricity. According to the National Grid, clean energy accounted for 47.9 percent of the country’s power between January and May, with carbon fuels making up 46.7 percent.
The lead may appear narrow, but the significance of this shift is huge. National Grid CEO John Pettigrew told BBC News that this is “the first time since the Industrial Revolution that more electricity has been produced from zero and low-carbon sources rather than fossil fuels. It's tremendously exciting because it's such a tipping point."
Current predictions for the escalation of climate change remain grim, and much more progress is needed if we are to avoid catastrophic heating of the planet. Yet this monumental milestone is a testament to what can be achieved with a little political and industrial will.
Just 10 years ago, more than three-quarters of Britain’s electricity came from fossil fuels, with 30 percent being derived from coal, while wind power contributed just 1.3 percent. This year, however, 19 percent of the county’s power has been generated from wind, with a further 18 percent coming from nuclear sources. Coal, meanwhile, has accounted for just 3 percent of the UK’s electricity in 2019.
Gas remains the single biggest source of power in Britain, contributing 41 percent, but plans are in place to phase in more clean energy. For example, work is now underway to connect the UK’s power grid to Norway’s hydro network, which is fueled by Northern Europe’s largest hydro-power plant.
Pettigrew also told the BBC that the batteries in electric cars could soon be used to store energy produced by wind and hydro-power plants, and then feed this power back into the grid via charging points during times of peak energy use.
The example set by Britain shows that technological solutions to the energy and climate crises are already available. However, the main obstacles to implementing these clean systems are predominantly political, as a shift towards zero-carbon energy will inevitably see jobs shed from the fossil fuel sector and transfer to the renewables industry.
The UK has already pledged to make this change, and is committed to becoming a ‘net-zero’ economy by 2050. But with much of Trump’s support coming from the fossil fuel sector, it’s unlikely the US will follow suit until he is ousted from office.