A photo of the Burbo Bank Extension offshore wind farm in the UK

British Wind Farms Outstrip Gas-Fired Electricity Generation for the First Time

Wind farms in Britain generated more electricity than gas-fired power stations for the first time in the first quarter of 2023. Offshore and onshore wind turbines supplied 32.4 per cent of electricity while gas-fired power stations delivered 31.7 per cent during the first three months of this year. 

Illustration; Burbo Bank Extension offshore wind farm; Source: Vestas (MHI Vestas)

This is according to findings released ahead of the next instalment of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report, an independent report by academics from Imperial College London commissioned through Imperial Consultants.

In January, National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) reported that wind accounted for 26.8 per cent of Britain’s electricity generation mix in 2022 and gas for 38.5 per cent, with wind generation providing over 20 GW of electricity for the first time on 2 November 2022, representing over 70 per cent of electricity generated on that day. 

According to RenewableUK’s UK Wind Energy Database (UKWED), there is currently 14.4 GW of onshore wind capacity and 13.7 GW of offshore wind in operation in the UK.

Drax says that the 32.4 per cent produced in the first three months of this year is the first time wind has provided the largest share of power in any quarter in the history of the country’s electricity grid.

“Across the three months, Britain’s turbines generated 24 TWh of electricity – enough to charge more than 300 million Tesla Model Ys. Output from wind was 3% higher than during the same quarter last year, while gas was down by 5%”, Drax said in a press release.

Source: Drax Group

Nearly 42 per cent of Britain’s electricity in the first three months of 2023 was produced using renewable sources, including wind (24 TWh; 32.4 per cent), solar (1.7 TWh; 2.3 per cent), biomass (4.2 TWh; 5.7 per cent), and hydro (1.1 TWh; 1.5 per cent).

Fossil fuels supplied 33 per cent, with 23.4 TWh coming from gas-fired power plants (31.7 per cent) and 0.9 TWh produced using coal (1.3 per cent).

The remainder came from imports (9.2 TWh; 12.6 per cent) and the country’s nuclear power stations (9.2 TWh; 12.5 per cent), the new analysis found.

Renewables were leading throughout 2022, too, as National Grid ESO reported zero-carbon sources outperformed traditional fossil fuel generation by providing 48.5 per cent of the electricity used last year, compared to 40 per cent from gas and coal power stations.

In its press release on 10 May, Drax Group highlighted that Britain now had only one coal-fired power station after Drax last month ended the use of the fuel at its plant in North Yorkshire. “Once the largest coal-fired power station in Western Europe, the plant is now the single largest generator of renewable power in the UK”, the group stated.

According to data released by National Grid ESO for 2022, coal accounted for only 1.5 per cent of generation last year – a dramatic fall from the 43 per cent of electricity produced using this source in 2012.

“In the space of a decade the UK has almost completely cut out coal, after relying on the most polluting fossil fuel for over a century to power our country. There are still many hurdles to reaching a completely fossil fuel-free grid, but wind out supplying gas for the first time is a genuine milestone event, and shows what can be achieved when governments create a good environment for investors in clean technology”, said Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, lead author of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report series.


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