Often when we talk about countries breaking renewable energy records, we focus on momentary spikes caused by exceptionally sunny or windy days. While these records are, in and of themselves, important—they still leave a bigger question hanging: How does the electricity grid cope when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing?
What's becoming increasingly clear, however, as countries integrate more renewable energy into their grids, is that clean energy can indeed supply a significant portion of our energy over an extended period of time. Indeed, new data from the UK government on Q2 electricity supply suggests that renewables beat out coal in the country's electricity mix for the first time ever over an entire quarter. Specifically, renewables accounted for 25.3% of electricity generated in Q2 2015 (up from 16.7% in Q2 2014). Meanwhile coal fell from 28.2% to 20.5% in the same period. Gas remained the same. And nuclear fell slightly to 21.5%.
It's not surprising that renewables have been surging. The country's offshore wind installations have grown massively in the last few years, as have both large-scale and rooftop solar. The question will be whether they can continue this impressive growth curve.
The UK's Conservative government has been slashing solar and wind subsidies of late, causing the likes of Al Gore to question the government's ongoing commitment to climate leadership. Yet, in brighter news, at least one UK developer is claiming that large-scale solar has now reached grid parity without the need for subsidies.
If that's really the case, then we may be reaching a tipping point where progress toward a 100% renewable-powered world becomes increasingly unstoppable. Of course, we must remember that electricity is an easier puzzle to solve than transportation or home heating—but something tells me that Europe's car makers may be increasingly interested in electrification in the coming years. (It's hard to screw up an emissions test when you have no emissions.)