Wind Turbines Generated More Than Half of Great Britain’s Energy on Boxing Day

A powerful storm sent the wind turbines whirling, generating a record-breaking contribution of electricity

Ten tall, white wind turbines organized in two rows in a grassy field. The sky is bright blue in the background.
The U.K. has been inching away from its reliance on fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power, after setting a goal in 2019 to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. stevep2008 via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

On December 26, Great Britain reached a new, green milestone when wind turbines generated more than half of its total electricity. The country has been making massive strides to produce more wind energy, and when Storm Bella swept through the region last week, its 100-mile-per-hour gusts kicked turbines into high gear. The boost helped set a record for the highest share of power ever generated by windfarms in the country, report Rob Davies and Jillian Ambrose for the Guardian.

The U.K. has been inching away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power, after setting a goal in 2019 to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, reports JP Casey for Power Technology. The U.K. has become a pioneer in wind energy, with the infrastructure to produce 10 gigawatts of electricity by the renewable source. The United States can only generate about 0.3 percent of what the U.K. can, reports Brian Kahn for Gizmodo.

The clean energy produced on Boxing Day is the latest renewable record for the U.K. Earlier in December, windfarms in Great Britain generated the most energy by turbines in one day—a smaller percentage than what the country recently experienced on Boxing Day. And earlier this year, the U.K. went two entire months—from April to June 2020—without using coal at all, reports Gizmodo.

This trend in declining fossil fuel energy use is partly a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has reduced the demand for electricity from 32.58 gigawatts in 2019 to 30.6 in 2020. As overall energy use has gone down, wind and solar power have been able to contribute a greater share, reports the Guardian.

“We saw the highest ever level of solar generation in April, the longest period of coal-free operation between April and June, and the greenest ever month in May," Rob Rome, the head of national control of the National Grid’s electricity system operator (NGEO), tells the Guardian.

Even with the promising news, experts warn that renewable energy sources like wind and solar power depend on the weather, reports Tony McDonough for Liverpool Business News. Without strong winds, the turbines don't spin enough; without ample sunlight, solar panels don't receive enough light to convert into electricitya relevant issue given the U.K.'s rainy, cloudy climate.

Steve Jennings, a partner at the consulting firm PwC, tells the Guardian that the key challenge to achieving a net-zero goal is finding alternatives for when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. He says the U.K. will retain nuclear and gas-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture technology, which will serve as back-ups as the country continues to embrace renewable energy.

"We expect to see many more records set in the years ahead, as the government has made wind energy one of the most important pillars of its energy strategy for reaching net-zero emissions as fast and as cheaply as possible," Melanie Onn, the deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, told Ambrose for the Guardian earlier in December.