Is the Fossil Fuel Age Finally drawing to a Close?

More and more people are realising that the
threat of global heating is indisputable. Global concern is building as we all
realise the implications if we fail to cut carbon emissions. With this greater
understanding, action is being taken to address climate change on many
different fronts. The era of the hydrocarbon which saw mankind through the
second stage of the industrial revolution is drawing to a close as a new global
energy reality emerges. History shows us that the stone age didn’t end because
we ran out of stones and it looks set to be the same for fossil fuels.

A report published by the Carbon Brief website revealed
that Energy produced by the UK’s renewable sector outperformed
fossil fuel plants on a record 137 days in 2019 to help the country’s energy
system record its greenest year yet.

Renewable energy from wind, solar, hydro and biomass projects grew by 9%
last year and was the UK’s largest electricity source in March, August, September
and December. Figures
issued by the National Grid showed that wind farms, hydro plants, solar and
nuclear energy alongside clean power imported by sub-sea cables delivered 48.5%
of the UK’s electricity in 2019. In comparison fossil fuels only generated 43%
of the UK’s electricity.  The rise of renewables in 2019
helped drive generation from coal and gas plants down by 6% from the year
before and 50% lower from the start of
the decade.
The National
Grid confirmed that “low-carbon” electricity including energy from renewables
and nuclear plants actually made up more than half the UK’s energy mix for the first time last year.

National
Grid CEO John Pettigrew told Sky News:

“2019 is a massively historic milestone in that it’s the first time ever in the UK that we’ve had more electricity produced from zero carbon fuels than from fossil fuels. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a gradual shift away from fossil fuels. So, in 2009, about 30% of electricity in the UK was produced by coal but what’s been happening over the last decade is a move towards wind and solar as well as zero carbon electricity from Europe being important into the UK as well.”

In fact, the number of coal-free days has accelerated from the first 24-hour period in 2017 to 21 days in 2018 and 83
days last year.

According to a new report by energy market analyst EnAppSys renewables
are on course to outstrip fossil fuels as the primary source of power in the UK
during 2020 building on the success of 2019.

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The study forecasts that wind,
solar and other forms of renewable generation will generate 121.3 terawatt
hours of electricity during 2020 compared with 105.6 terawatt hours from coal-
and gas-fired power stations.

EnAppSys director Paul Verrill
said:

“With the moratorium on onshore wind and reductions in capital cost of offshore wind farms, it is likely that more of these offshore projects will come on stream in future years, which will drive even higher levels of renewable output.”

Improvements in the electrical
transmission infrastructure have also increased the contribution of renewable
energy to the UK fuel mix.

If you go back to 2018, gas was
responsible for providing 37.6% of the total amount of electricity in the UK while
renewables accounted for 31.2% and nuclear generation supplied 19.9%. Imports
provided 6.3% of electricity while coal supplied 5%.

The report also stated that it
was the rise in the number of offshore wind farms that were commissioned or
entered full operation during 2018 that drove the increase in renewables
generation. Added to that solar generation has also climbed from
81.0TWh in 2015 to 113.5TWh last year.

Despite the UK’s low-carbon electricity production doubling over the
last 10 years and the 2019 record, growth slowed sharply in the last year of
the decade due to a string of outages at the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants. Carbon
Brief’s report warned this could slow progress in the years ahead.

Simon Evans, the author of Carbon Brief’s report, said:

“Our analysis shows that rapid gains in decarbonising the power sector can’t be taken for granted and won’t just continue to magically happen forever. The government’s seemingly ambitious target to roll out 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 won’t happen without policies to back it up and it may not be enough on its own to meet UK climate goals, without contributions from onshore wind, solar or further new nuclear.”

Audrey Gallacher, Energy UK’s
interim chief executive, said the report was a “stark reminder” that the energy
industry must go “much further and faster” to help meet the UK’s climate
target. The UK has pledged to create a carbon-neutral economy by cutting emissions to net zero by 2050.
This means the UK must only emit as much carbon as it is able to capture and
store.

In order to meet the UK’s rising need for clean electricity for
transport and heating there needs to be a huge increase in low-carbon
generation.

Audrey Gallacher went on to say:

“The amount of low-carbon power produced has doubled over the last decade but we need to go above and beyond that to keep pace with our climate change targets, especially with overall demand set to increase, rather than falling as it has done in recent years. This underlines the urgency of increasing all forms of low-carbon generation and why we need to see the government’s energy white paper as soon as possible, with action and policies that can enable the required investment and innovation to make this happen.”

Though levels of coal-fired energy generation have slumped 89% while
levels of renewable generation have grown since 2012, gas-fired output has
remained relatively static. Wind will continue to be the primary source of
renewable generation having produced a record high share of the renewables mix.

In January this year the Guardian
newspaper announced that they would no longer be accepting advertising from oil
and gas companies in a strong move to support the campaign against climate
change. They are the first major global news organisation to institute an
outright ban on taking money from companies that extract fossil fuels. The ban
will apply to any business primarily involved in extracting fossil fuels,
including many of the world’s largest polluters.

The company’s acting chief executive, Anna Bateson, and the chief
revenue officer, Hamish Nicklin, said in a joint statement:

 “Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in that industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world.”

They went on to say that the response to global heating was the “most important challenge of our times”.

The campaign group Greenpeace were pleased with the move.

Mel Evans, senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK said:

“This is a watershed moment, and the Guardian must be applauded for this bold move to end the legitimacy of fossil fuels.  Oil and gas firms now find themselves alongside tobacco companies as businesses that threaten the health and wellbeing of everyone on this planet. Other media outlets, arts and sports organisations must now follow suit and end fossil fuel company advertising and sponsorship.”

As we are
already seeing in Europe, the demand for hydrocarbon will be  driven by declining renewable energy
costs, government policies, new technologies, and companies’ shifts in strategies to prepare for the new
energy age.  Major structural changes in
fossil fuel supply, demand, energy mix and prices will happen as a result.

It’s
worth mentioning that since 2010 a contributing factor to the uptake of solar
PV, has been that costs have fallen by 80%, while at the same time more mature
technologies, like onshore wind, have seen costs fall about 30%.

Research
by Wood Mackenzie, a global energy, chemicals, renewables, metals, mining
research and consultancy group, predicts that after 2035 the increase in the adoption of renewable
generation and electrified transport will make them the default choice across
many energy systems around the world. They foresee that half of all new power
plants constructed globally will be either solar or wind, or a hybrid
combination with storage and on top of this 50% of all additional miles travelled
by road will use an electric vehicle.

There is no doubt that we have now entered the era of the renewable
energy resource where zero-emission electricity is generated via near unlimited
inputs from solar radiation, wind, tides and hydrogen. We are living in a time
when cutting-edge, smart electric grids, utility-scale storage, and electric
self-driving vehicles powered by everything from lithium-ion batteries to
hydrogen fuel cells will be critical elements of this historic energy
transition.

Find out more about solar here. 

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