After Britain built the world's first coal-fired power plant in the 1880s, coal became the country's dominant electricity source and a major economic driver for the next century. But last year Britain became the first G7 country to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and in November it will host the United Nations' international climate talks in Glasgow.
"As we enter a new decade, this truly is a historic moment," said National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew, referring to the company's latest data.
The data shows wind, solar, hydro, nuclear and imports produced about 48.5 per cent of Britain's electricity in 2019 while fossil fuels such as coal and gas contributed about 43 per cent. The rest came from biomass, renewable energy from plants or animals.
The increase in zero-carbon power marks a huge shift from almost two decades ago when fossil fuels provided about three-quarters of the country's electricity.
Anesco engineer Tommy Good works on Clayhill Solar Power Farm, Britain's first to operate without a government subsidy, in Westoning, U.K., in 2017. (Darren Staples/Reuters)
The shift has been mainly thanks to a rapid increase in Britain's renewable power capacity, with wind, solar and hydro producing more than a quarter of the country's electricity in 2019, up from only 2.3 per cent in 1990.
This figure is expected to continue to grow as more large offshore wind farms are built.
The National Grid data shows that eight per cent of Britain's electricity came from imports from Europe via interconnectors with France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.
About 66 per cent of these imports came from zero-carbon generation.
The data confirmed expectations for growth in low-carbon power published by National Grid in mid-2019, based on data for the first five months of the year.
Britain's windy coastlines in particular have proved to be an ideal host for large wind projects, with the northwest coast of England home to the world's largest offshore wind farm, Orsted's Walney Extension.