Renewables power up UK electricity exports to Europe

UK renewables take larger slice of the energy mix, and Britain becomes a net exporter to Europe for the first time in a decade

Wind turbines generate electricity at Burno Bank Offshore Wind Farm in Liverpool.  Getty Images
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Britain exported more power to Europe than ever before in 2022, making it a net exporter for the first time in a decade, new analysis shows.

The UK has been expanding its network of undersea power cables to Europe for many years and usually they have been used to import power from the continent.

However, in a shift this year the UK is estimated to have exported four times as much electricity as in the previous year, while import levels almost halved.

This means Britain had net electricity exports of 1.9 terawatt-hours, worth an estimated £3.1 billion ($3.73 billion). It is the first time the UK has been a net exporter since 2010.

At the same time, the latest Electric Insights report found that the spiralling cost of fossil fuels led power prices to almost double this year.

The analysis is based on figures until December 17, with estimates for the remaining days of 2022.

The Electric Insights reports are commissioned by the biomass and hydroelectric generating company Drax and carried out by independent academics at Imperial College London.

Solar panels at Kencot solar farm in Lechlade. PA

Renewables such as wind, solar, biomass and hydro generated 40 per cent of the country's electricity in 2022, up from 35 per cent in 2021, helping to cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 2.7 million tonnes compared to the previous year. Overall power generation from renewables has more than quadrupled over the last decade.

At one point in May this year, renewables made up 72.8 per cent of the UK's energy mix. At the same time, wind farms generated more than 20 gigawatts of electricity for the first time, the report found.

Gas prices rise

However, despite the impressive renewables figures, the unprecedented rise in the cost of gas following Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent power prices to a new all-time high.

Gas supplied 42 per cent of the UK's power in 2022, its largest share of the fuel mix since 2016. Britain is on course to have an annual average wholesale price above £200 per MWh for the first time ever in 2022, up from £113 the year before. This is nearly six times higher than the cost of electricity in 2020 (£34 per MWh).

“This has been a year like no other for the energy industry. The public are feeling the pain of high gas prices on their energy bills even though renewables are providing the grid with more cheap, green electricity than ever before, " said Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, and lead author of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report series.

“The lesson from 2022 is that we need to break our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all if we want lower cost and more secure energy supplies. If we had not invested in wind, solar and biomass over the last decade our energy bills would have been even higher, as would the risk of blackouts over winter.”

“The energy crisis cannot be solved by increasing our reliance on gas imported from abroad. We need to turbocharge our investment in clean energy technologies to become Europe's renewable electricity powerhouse, which will cut fuel bills at home and bring money into the economy by exporting power to our neighbouring countries,” he added.

Will Gardiner, the chief executive of Drax Group, said: “We can accelerate and strengthen Britain's long-term energy security by ending our reliance on expensive, imported fossil fuels and instead increase investment in home-grown renewables, and innovative green technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and pumped storage hydro.”

Updated: December 29, 2022, 2:37 PM