Q1 2023: Wind becomes our largest electricity source

Download PDF

Dr Iain Staffell, Professor Richard Green, Professor Tim Green and Nathan Johnson – Imperial College London, Dr Malte Jansen – University of Sussex, Professor Rob Gross – UK Energy Research Centre

Over the first quarter of 2023, wind power generated the largest share of Britain’s electricity for the first time ever.  Wind overtook gas, breaking its 7-year run at the top spot.  This ends the 100+ year reign of fossil fuels as the country’s largest source of power.

Just 10 years ago, wind was typically only the fifth largest source of power, behind gas, coal, nuclear and imports, but output has quadrupled over the last decade.[i]  Wind delivered just under a third of the country’s electricity demand from January through to March, supplying 32.4% compared to 31.7% from gas.  This was helped by an exceptionally windy January which saw production exceed 21 GW for the first time.

More generally, renewables have had a very productive season, producing enough electricity to ‘power every UK home’ through the winter.  Similarly, March saw a record-breaking 83% low-carbon electricity.  In sharp contrast, fossil fuels once again hit a new minimum output, dipping below 1.5 GW output for the first time on 24 March.

Wind overtook gas for two reasons.  First, offshore wind capacity has grown by 3 GW over the past year, increasing total installed wind capacity by 14% year-on-year.  Secondly, electricity demand fell by 4% from the first quarter of last year, in part due to a mild January, meaning this extra wind production could supply a larger share of electricity demand.

With the UK’s offshore wind capacity set to continue growing in the coming years, we should expect to see the majority of our electricity coming from wind during the winter months.[ii]  This points to a new era of managing the power system, with renewables meeting the bulk of demand and fossil fuels shrinking into the support roles needed to keep the system stable.  Eventually these can be made emissions-free with carbon capture and storage, or replaced with low-carbon fuels, batteries, etc.

This quarter, Britain moved one step closer to clean energy sources taking over the mantle from fossil fuels.

Britain’s sources of electricity ranked in order of electricity produced over each quarter since 2010

[i] Wind power generated 12 TWh of electricity during the winter of 2012-13, versus 49 TWh during the winter of 2022-23.

[ii] It will be a few years still until this is a year-round occurrence, as lower wind speeds during the summer months mean wind provides a smaller share of electricity.  Wind power produced 22% of electricity during Q2 & Q3 last year, versus 32% during Q1 & Q4.

Live Grid Data