Low-carbon electricity growth stalls in UK as ageing nuclear plants fail to keep up

7th January 2020 | Commercial Energy

Low-carbon power generation in the UK increased by just 1 terawatt hour (TWh), or less than 1 per cent of current capacity in 2019 – the slowest growth in a decade, according to sector-tracking website Carbon Brief. In an analysis, Carbon Brief said that growth will need to double in the 2020s to meet UK climate targets while replacing old nuclear plants as they retire.

The UK’s electricity makeup has changed considerably in the last decade. Low-carbon sources make up around 54 per cent of generation with just 43 per cent coming from fossil fuels. Of the latter, 41 per cent is from gas and just 2 per cent from coal. This compares to 75 per cent fossil fuel generation in 2010.


While power from renewables grew by nearly a tenth in 2019, this was offset by falling nuclear generation due to ongoing outages at Hunterston and Dungeness reactors. The 202s will see seven of the UK’s nuclear plants decommissioned – assuming their lifespans are not extended – with Hinkley Point C the only new plant scheduled to replace them at spiralling cost. To meet goals to clean up energy generation as part of targets to tackle climate change, Carbon Brief said the UK requires a “rapid step up in the pace of low-carbon expansion”.

On average, the UK has seen around 9TWh of low-carbon generation added to the grid in the last decade, with just 1TWh coming last year. Carbon Brief says that to meet goals, the UK will need to see increases of at least 15TWh each year in combination with electrification of transport and heating.

Hinkley Point C will help with this goal somewhat by generating around 25TWh for the grid once the facility is completed (current ETA: 2026), although this will only compensate for approximately half of the power generated at present by the nuclear plants set to be decommissioned. Meanwhile, the Hornsea One scheme – dubbed the world’s largest offshore windfarm – will generate around 5TWh each year.

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