Capacity from renewables has overtaken fossil fuels

Renewables set a new British record with 42GW of capacity now available

A major green milestone has been reached on Britain’s electricity grid, as the total capacity available from renewables has overtaken fossil fuels for the first time, according to the latest Drax Electric Insights report.

A third of fossil fuel generating capacity has retired over the last five years – whilst the capacity from wind, solar, biomass, hydro and other renewables has tripled, taking the total renewable capacity available on the system to 42GW.

This means that for the first time renewables have the biggest share of Britain’s electricity generating infrastructure, overtaking the 40.6GW of capacity available from fossil fuels.

  • Wind farms provide the biggest share of renewable capacity on the system, with more than 20GW available.
  • Solar comes in second providing more than 13GW.
  • Biomass is third, with 3.2GW.

Biomass played an important role in helping to tip the balance from fossil fuels to renewables with two coal-to-biomass conversions being completed during the third quarter of the year at Lynemouth in Northumberland and Drax Power Station’s Unit 4 conversion in Yorkshire – adding 1GW of capacity in total.

The growth in offshore wind power has made Britain the world’s leader, with 45% of global wind capacity stationed here – and so far this year, Galloper, Rampion, Race Bank and Walney 3 have all come online, making Walney the world’s largest offshore wind farm at 0.66GW.

There are almost a million rooftop solar power systems in operation across Britain, contributing to the 13GW of capacity available.

The Electric Insights report, produced independently by researchers from Imperial College London for Drax, also looks at why power prices are at a ten-year high and identifies Brexit as being a major factor. An 18% increase in power costs was caused by the currency devaluation associated with the 2016 referendum result, when the GB Pound fell against the Euro and US Dollar.

However, balancing the power system also added six per cent to wholesale prices as the day-to-day costs of running the transmission system came in at £3.8m per day during the third quarter of 2018.

Dr Iain Staffell from Imperial, explained:

“The cost of balancing the system has doubled in the last four years. The amount of flexible generation on the system is a key driver.  Balancing costs rise when the output from flexible generators such as gas, coal, biomass and hydro, falls below 10GW.

“Having a ‘brittle’ power system with limited flexibility will be more expensive to control. More flexible generation, storage and demand-side response will be critical in minimising system costs in the future.”

Andy Koss, Drax Power CEO said:

“More renewables are crucial for reducing carbon emissions and helping us to meet our climate targets – but flexible, lower carbon generation, is also clearly vital for controlling the costs of maintaining a stable, low carbon power system.

“The IPCC’s report recognised that in order to meet our climate change targets, up to 85% of global power generation needs to come from renewables by 2050. This means the remainder will have to be provided by flexible sources, which can support the system and help to keep costs down – such as biomass, hydro, pumped storage as well as high efficiency gas.”  


Media contacts:

Ali Lewis

Drax Group Interim Head of Media & PR

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T: 07712670888

Jessica Gorton

Drax Group Press Officer

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Notes to editors:

  • The growing costs of balancing the power system highlight the importance of when and where – rather than just how much – electricity is produced and consumed. Over the quarter, there were 58 hours when managing electricity flows around the system cost more than generating the electricity in the first place.
  • During September, the balancing costs spiked several times when wind output was high. Wind cannot be forecasted with perfect accuracy, and generation occurs far from places where electricity is consumed, causing network constraints.  Both of these must be corrected using short-term dispatch of flexible sources, which incurs balancing costs.
  • Balancing costs include deploying fast-responding generators for backup and reserve, and adjusting the output of generators around the country to keep the transmission system within operating limits.


About Electric Insights

  • Electric Insights Quarterly was commissioned by Drax and is delivered independently by a team of academics from Imperial College London, facilitated by the College’s consultancy company – Imperial Consultants. The report analyses raw data that are made publicly available by National Grid and Elexon, which run the electricity and balancing market respectively. Released four times a year, it will focus on supply and demand, prices, emissions, the performance of the various generation technologies and the network that connects them.
  • Along with Dr Iain Staffell, the team from Imperial included Professors Richard Green and Tim Green, experts in energy economics and electrical engineering, Dr Rob Gross and Dr Malte Jansen who contributed expertise in energy policy. This edition of Electric insights includes work from guest author Luke Clark from Renewable UK.
  • The quarterly reports are backed by an interactive website which provides live data from 2009 until the present.

About Drax

Drax Group plc plays a vital role in helping change the way energy is generated, supplied and used. Its 2,300-strong staff operate across three principal areas of activity – electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers and compressed wood pellet production.

The Group includes:

Drax Power Ltd, which operates the largest power station in the UK, based at Selby, North Yorkshire and supplies six percent of the country’s electricity needs. The energy firm converted from burning coal to become a predominantly biomass-fuelled electricity generator. Drax is the biggest renewable generator in the UK and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

Haven Power, based in Ipswich, supplies electricity to large Industrial and Commercial sector businesses.

Opus Energy, based in Oxford, Northampton and Cardiff, provides electricity and gas to small and medium sized (SME) businesses.

Drax Biomass, is based in the US and manufactures compressed wood pellets produced from sustainably managed working forests, supplying fuel used by Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire to generate flexible, renewable power for the UK’s homes and businesses.

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