UK renewables generate more power than gas over winter 2023/24

Renewable electricity generation in winter 2023/24 has displaced over 9 million homes worth of gas, helping with energy independence.

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By George Smeeton

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New analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) Power Tracker [1] finds that in the 2023/24 winter heating season, power generated by wind, hydro and solar is estimated to have reached around 55TWh (terawatt hours).

This is higher than the power generated by gas power stations in the UK, which is estimated to be around 45TWh. The renewable generation is the equivalent to running around 21 million UK homes for a year.

Generating the same amount of power using gas power stations only would have required around 110TWh more gas – the same amount needed to heat more than 9 million UK homes or contained in 130 liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers [2].

Jess Ralston, Head of Energy at ECIU, said: “With or without new licenses, the North Sea will continue its inevitable decline so we’ll need to import ever greater quantities of gas from abroad unless we cut our demand by rolling out more renewables.

“The price of gas is set by international markets so the choice for the UK is stark. Boost British renewables and achieve clean power or import more gas at a price we can’t control.

“Despite the good news on renewables now, if you look more broadly we’re heading backwards on energy independence. The Government fumbled its last renewables auction securing no new offshore wind farms. It’s also set to agree only a limited number in the next auction round because of Treasury’s odd rules. It has also just delayed the roll out of heat pumps which can run on electricity from British offshore wind, rather than boilers that will increasingly have to run on foreign gas.”

There are several large new wind farms in the pipeline which could help to meet the UK’s growing demand for electricity, including the world’s largest windfarm Dogger Bank which is due to come online in 2026. However, the Government failed to secure any offshore wind bids in the last Contracts for Difference auction in September 2023 [3].

Some changes have been made to the scheme’s parameters for the next auction round in 2024, however the overall budget is still artificially limited by the Treasury using outdated ‘reference’ prices for the late 2020s that are around half the level that industry estimates. Industry has previously recommended that Treasury update the reference prices [4].

Overall, in winter renewables are estimated to have provided around 40% of power generation, with gas generating around a third. Other generation, including nuclear and biomass, has accounted for the rest (about a quarter, 25%).

Other sources of generation have generated around 35TWh over the same 6 month period. Using gas power plants instead would require around 70TWh more gas, equivalent to around 6 million homes’ annual gas demand for heat, or gas contained within around 80 LNG tankers.

There is a risk that investment in UK renewables is further stifled by recent policy instability [5], such as the Prime Minister rolling back on net zero in September 2023. There is also increased competition for renewable investment as the US and EU both have generous funding packages within flagship pieces of legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act.

In addition, there are concerns around grid infrastructure and the process to connect to the grid keeping pace with the quick rate of buildout. Ofgem and the National Energy System Operator have committed to accelerating the process for grid connections and both the Conservatives and Labour parties have also made it a priority ahead of the next Election [6].

Some of the changes to planning and regulations required could be minimal in cost as it could involve, for example, changing the current first-come-first served queuing system to a system where a renewable project must have all the appropriate financing in place before it is able to join the queue. It is hoped that this would remove ‘zombie’ projects which stand little chance of going ahead form the queue, freeing up space for others [7].

To that end, National Grid has announced it will accelerate 10GW of battery storage projects [8], with 20-30GW more storage capacity expected to connect by 2030 in its most ambitious scenarios. Between winter 2021/22 and winter 2022/23, the pipeline of battery storage projects increased five times [9]. For example, Europe’s largest grid scale battery storage facility came online near Hull in 2022 [10] and the largest battery storage scheme in the world recently had planning permission granted for a site near Manchester [11].

The UK has a higher gas dependency than any other country in Europe with gas providing 85% of our home heating and up to 40% of our power in recent years. According to the International Monetary Fund this, combined with the UK having the least efficient housing stock in western Europe, has meant UK households have been worst hit by high energy costs [12].

Notes to editors:

[1] ECIU Power Tracker uses data from Elexon’s BM Reports for transmission-level generation, estimates from the University of Sheffield for distribution-level solar, and ECIU estimates of other distribution-level generation (based on capacity and load factors). The winter heating season is defined by the energy industry as October to March. Data for the end of March is estimated using an average of the previous 4 weeks of power generation, assuming that weather patterns remain similar. The analysis considers GB generation and excludes imports because there is no detail about their original generation mix.
[2] Based on Ofgem’s typical domestic consumption values (TDCV) for 2024, which is electricity demand of 2,700kWh for electricity and 11,500kWh for gas.
[3] No new UK offshore wind awarded in auction, Energy Live News, 2023
[4] UK risks second troubled offshore wind auction round, RWE warns, FT, 2024.
[5] Energy UK responds to Prime Minister’s speech on Net Zero, Energy UK, 2023.
[6] Labour party, 2023 and Conservative Party, 2023.
[7] Ofgem to slay zombie projects on National Grid ESO queue, The Times, 2023.
[8] National Grid to accelerate connection for 10GW of battery storage
[9] National Grid, Future Energy Scenarios, 2022
[10] Europe's biggest battery storage system switched on, BBC News, 2022.
[11] Plans approved for world’s largest battery storage scheme in Manchester, Edie, 2023.
[12] UK households worst hit in western Europe, finds IMF, the Guardian, 2022

For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, Tel: 07894 571 153, Email: