According to statistics, some of the stormiest days this winter have also been the best for wind, solar and hydropower (WSH) energy. The exceptionally stormy period last December that brought storms Desmond, Eva and Frank to the mainland added thousands of megawatts of low carbon electricity to the energy budget.
‘Last December, more than 19 per cent of Great Britain’s electrical energy came from WSH,’ says Dr Grant Wilson, Research Associate at the Environmental and Energy Engineering Research Group at the University of Sheffield. ‘That is the highest figure yet for a calendar month.’
WSH energy produced a total of 14.6 per cent of Britain’s electricity across 2015 – the highest it has ever been. The storms’ record-breaking impact on WSH has helped to bolster Britain’s longer-term diversification of the energy sector. Further, when the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change releases its 2015 greenhouse gas emissions statistics for the power sector next month, the results are predicted to be at their lowest value since 1990.
According to Wilson, this drop in emissions is due to a combination of factors: a change from coal to gas plants in the early 1990s, a reduction in overall electrical demand since 2005, and an increase in renewables over the last few years. ‘However, the combination of more wind turbines and stormy weather provided greater levels of electrical energy – so it might be true to say that storms could boost the output compared to the average.’
Will more of Britain’s storm energy be harnessed in the future? ‘Yes and no,’ says Wilson who suggests that for the next few years, the use of renewables will continue to rise. Projects are underway to expand the UK’s offshore wind capacity and other onshore WSH projects are nearing completion. ‘However,’ he cautions, ‘as the funding landscape has been changed since the general election last May, there is an expectation of a major slowdown in renewables investment.’
This was published in the March 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.