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Over the past few months, we’ve all experienced the effects of Covid-19 in different ways. We recently discussed how changes to daily life have impacted the environment around us, but how has the pandemic affected the grid mix, in particular, renewable energy?
Renewables and low carbon power increase in 2020
Renewable energy has been the only energy source to grow globally this year, as the pandemic has caused demand to reduce on a scale not seen since WW2! In fact, industry electricity demand in the UK has fallen by 5%, whilst domestic demand is down 1.5%1. On a global level, electricity consumption is expected to fall by 5% in 2020, although the impact on demand will be heavily dependent on the duration and speed of recovery following the lockdown measures taken in each country2.
The continued growth seen in renewable generation during this period is set to have a long term influence over our energy future. Proving their resilience, wind generation increased by 40% compared to the same period last year and in total, low carbon energy made up 60% of the UK’s generation in the first quarter of 20201.
Fossil fuels decline
In contrast, there have been major reductions in electricity generated from oil, coal and natural gas. Generation from coal fell by a massive 24% last year and now contributes less than half of what it did in 20073. In fact, the UK went 67 days without coal generation, with help from carbon pricing and national coal phase-out policies4.
In addition, gas production is down by almost 30% in the last quarter, bringing an end to a decade of uninterrupted global growth1.
Impact on emissions
Coal’s decline has had a dramatic impact on pollution. EU power sector emissions have fallen by nearly 30% in the last six years. Last year they fell by 12%, the largest single year reduction since 19901.
The more recent collapse in fossil fuel demand is predicted to lead to a further reduction of 3 billion tonnes in carbon emissions, equivalent to 8% of the global total1. This is broadly in line with the reduction required every year, if the net zero emissions target is be achieved by 20501.
The resilience of renewables and their growth during this period is an important milestone as we work towards a low carbon future. However, many caution that the government’s funds for the UK’s economic recovery should also be linked to the Paris Agreement. This is crucial to avoid a resurgence in emissions, like those which followed the Credit Crunch 2, and to ensure we rebuild in a better, more sustainable way.