Q3 2023: Britain’s electricity reaches lowest ever carbon intensity

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Britain’s electricity is cleaner than ever, with last quarter’s generation mix producing just 143 grams of CO2 per kWh.  This is the first time that the milestone of 150 g/kWh has been beaten over a quarter, and comes more than three years since this record was last broken, during the COVID lockdowns of early 2020.

Since 2020, carbon intensity had stagnated, stubbornly hovering around 180 g/kWh after falling consistently over the previous decade.  Calm weather in 2021 meant that natural gas had to make up the shortfall in wind output.  Then in 2022, fossil fuel output increased as Britain exported more electricity abroad than ever before to help ease problems on the continent with nuclear and gas shortages.

This quarter, Britain’s renewables played a central role pushing carbon intensity back down.  The combined output of renewables – that includes wind, biomass, solar and hydro – hit a new absolute record in Quarter 3, with wind output up one-fifth on this time last year.  This higher output combined with low demand to mean they supplied more than two-fifths of the country’s power.   

A key question is whether this is a one-off?  Will we go back to the plateaued carbon intensity of the last few years, or if this is a sign of things to come?  On the one hand, Britain’s renewables capacity is accelerating again, after a slowdown since 2020.  For example, the first phase of Dogger Bank, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, is now being commissioned.  Its 277 turbines will produce 6 TWh of clean electricity per year (2% of national demand).

On the other hand, demand is expected to start growing rapidly too.  With more electricity required, the new projects coming online may only be enough to maintain the current share of clean electricity, meaning more low-carbon power sources are required to continue reducing carbon emissions.  We need to build more renewables of all types and kick-start negative emissions technologies, to not just keep pace with demand growth, but continue growing the share of clean energy and the downward trajectory of emissions.

Quarterly average carbon intensity of electricity generation over the last decade 

Live Grid Data