Record-breaking 2017: 12 clean energy milestones smashed

2017 was a fantastic year – and a record-breaking one – for renewable energy in the UK.

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In total, there were a staggering 12 energy generation records broken over the course of the year, all showing the UK hitting clean, sustainable milestones. With no further ado…


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A clean, green summer 

In a record-breaking year, the summer was a particular highlight. Between 21st June and the 22nd September, the UK saw its cleanest summer on record (1), with 52% of electricity generated over this period coming from renewable sources.

Thanks to the UK’s strong support for renewable energy, coal generation has fallen sharply, and it has been replaced by wind, solar and biomass.


24 hours without coal 

Friday 21st April might not have been memorable for you and I, but it will go down as a pivotal one in the history books.

According to the National Grid, the UK’s electricity network operator, this was the first ever day on which coal was not used for electricity generation (2). This stretches back to the industrial revolution, which started in 1740.

The 24hour period was hailed as a seismic moment for the energy industry, signalling the growing prominence of renewable technologies and the beginning of the end for coal generation.

This is also the longest period without coal generation (3) – two records for the price of one.  However, with the UK government phasing out coal generation altogether by 2025, it is likely that we’ll see these records broken again soon.


Wind makes big strides 

2017 was an exciting year for wind energy. First came the world’s largest wind turbines. At 195m, each one is taller than London’s Gherkin, and a blade diameter of 164 meters means that the turbines are truly gigantic.

Next came the Hywind Project, featuring the world’s first floating wind turbines. Installed on an experimental basis off the north-east coast of Scotland, it is exploring the potential of floating foundations.

These technological advancements are fantastic, but they simply provide backdrop for the continued success of wind generation, which set several new records in 2017:

4. Most wind power ever produced in a single day

5. Most offshore wind power produced in a single moment

6. Most electricity produced from all wind generation at any moment

These records, combined with the fact that wind generation costs fell to a record low price in the second round of Contracts for Difference auctions, demonstrate the extent to which wind energy is becoming a staple in the UK’s energy mix.


Hyper hydro 

The UK has historically had a low level of hydropower generation, but it reached a record, with the most electricity produced from hydropower at any one moment (7) on 18th March 2017, hitting 1 GW of generation, accounting for 3.2% of the energy mix at the time.


Glowing solar 

Over the spring and summer months, the south of the UK receives a comparable amount of sunshine to other Northern European countries like Brussels and the Netherlands.

As such, the UK gets enough sunshine to make solar power a viable way of generating electricity, and in 2017 there were two new records set:

8. Highest percentage of solar power produced relative to national demand

9. More electricity generated by solar than ever before at a single moment (25%)



There were a further three records set which demonstrate the extent of the UK’s decarbonisation, the progress of which has increased at an exponential rate.

Figures from Drax’s innovative Electric Insights portal show how sharply coal use has dropped. Between 2012 and 2016, coal capacity in the UK halved from 28 GW to 14 GW. In part, this was down to coal stations closures and retirements, but that could not happen without significant renewable and low-carbon infrastructure in place to help keep the lights on across the country.

From 2015 to 2016, coal generation fell by 61%, and similar progress can be expected over the next number of years as coal is entirely removed from the UK’s grid by 2025.

10. Lowest amount of carbon produced by electricity generation at any one moment

11. Largest amount of energy produced from renewables at any one moment

12. First time that wind, nuclear and solar produced more electricity than gas and coal

And it wasn’t just a good year in the UK – globally, 2017 saw several positive developments:

    • Google began to source the equivalent of 100% of its energy demands from renewable generators
    • Peer-to-peer energy trading networks could become reality thanks to Blockchain
    • A proposed island in the North Sea which would help to power homes across the UK, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands.

With the news that January 2018 saw a new wind power generation record – 13.6 GW GW, breaking the December 2017 record of 12.4 GW – 2018 is likely to be another record breaking year for renewable energy.