UK electricity generation fell to its lowest level in a quarter of a century while renewables output rose to record levels last year, according to research by Carbon Brief.
Analysis by the company shows that wind, solar and other renewable sources generated an estimated 33% of the UK total in 2018.
Overall electricity generation levels were as low as those recorded in 1994, the same year that the Tony Blair-led New Labour government came to power.
Low-carbon generation, which includes nuclear, as well as renewables, contributed 53% of UK generation in 2018, with the share from fossil fuels at its lowest ever, according to Carbon Brief’s study, which is based on figures from BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The sources of UK electricity have shifted towards cleaner sources as generation has declined.
The 53% figure was mostly down to strong growth for wind, up 16% to 58 terawatt hours in 2018, nearly 3.5 times as much as the 17 terawatt hours from coal, according to the research.
Lower per-capita electricity generation and cleaner supplies have contributed roughly equal shares to the reduction in power sector carbon dioxide emissions since demand peaked in 2005, the study found.
This has helped to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions overall, even as the economy grows and population rises.
In analysis released in 2018, Carbon Brief analysis showed that, for the first time, in 2017 more than half of UK electricity generation was low-carbon.
In its analysis Carbon Brief has charted the history of UK electricity generation since 1920.
Bar the 1974 three-day week, the recession and miners’ strikes of the early 1980s, generation climbed during the 20th century, before levelling off in the early 2000s.
Generation levels have declined since 2005, including before, during and after the 2008 financial crisis.
Production of electricity in 2018 was 16% lower than in 2005, a reduction equivalent to 2.5 times the output of the new nuclear plant being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, according to the analysis, despite the UK population increasing by 10% to 66 million people.
Overall, Carbon Brief’s study has found that the amount of electricity generated per person in the UK has fallen by 24% since 2005, down to its lowest level since 1984.
The findings contradict commonly held assumptions that a growing economy requires more electricity. Instead, the UK economy grown even as electricity generation has levelled off and then started to decline.
The reasons for this decoupling are not fully understood, though a combination of energy efficiency regulations, energy-efficient lighting, environmentally conscious consumers and economic restructuring, including offshoring of energy-intensive industries, may have all contributed to the trend, according to the research.