The UK went 55 hours without coal fired power last week, as a result of strong renewable generation, mainly in the forms of solar and wind. Additionally, the UK experienced low demand for both gas and power while the ‘mini-heat wave’ saw temperatures increase to almost 28 degrees. There has been a huge shift over towards renewable generation, and a sharp drop in coal fired power being generated in the UK.
However, many are quick to point out that gas fired power still makes up a large percentage of every day power supply, and so we still have a long way to go until the UK is completely free of fossil fuels. The Government’s aim to close all coal fired power stations by 2025 is achievable, especially as so many coal power stations are already closed or out of operation (mothballed). However, the rapid change in energy landscape has left the UK to rely on gas fired power, sourced from expensive supplies such as LNG from Qatar and the US, and imported gas from European pipelines.
The intermittency of wind and solar generation does present issues in terms of security of supply. In National Grid’s summer report, they aim to improve reporting and forecasting of expected solar power generation, as well as wind generation. Solar power provided almost a quarter of total UK generation in 2017, but tends not to perform at all during dark, cold winter months where days are shorter, cloudier and duller. This is generally where wind can provide a strong amount of supply to the stack, however both sources of power supply can drop to low levels at equal times. This is where we need stable generation such as nuclear, biomass and gas fired power generation.
Due to new pollution standards, UK coal power stations have closed dramatically, and as such pollution goals are becoming more and more likely to be achieved by 2025. With Hinkley point due online in the mid 2020’s, and increased renewable generation, could this lead to fewer gas power stations? There could have been a potential for this, however the Capacity Mechanism (housed under the Electricity Market Reform scheme) has awarded Capacity Market contracts to various gas power stations to provide quick response power generation during peak winter months. Therefore it is unlikely to see gas power stations reduce any time soon.
Sources: National Grid Summer 18 Outlook, the Guardian, the Financial Times, Energy Live News.