Coal drops to record low generation share in UK

Coal power generated a record low of 0.6% of the UK's grid mix between April and June, the latest official Government statistics have revealed.


Coal drops to record low generation share in UK

Pictured: The Cottam coal power station

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) latest Energy Trends data, published late on Thursday (26 September), reveals that Q2 marked the first quarter during which coal has generated less than 1% of the UK grid mix since the 19th century.

During the same period, the grid share accounted for by renewable energy rose by 3.5% quarter-on-quarter to reach 35.5%. The annual rise was starker still, with renewables accounting for 9.9% more of the grid mix in Q2 2019 than in Q2 2018.

When nuclear is added to the mix, it, along with renewables, collectively accounted for 52.6% of generation during Q2.

The data also tracks changes in the UK’s renewable generation capacity, and revealed that, year-on-year, capacity was up 7.9% to 45.9GW. The majority of this growth was accounted for by offshore wind, with output up by one-quarter year-on-year.

Change the record

During the three-month period covered in the latest data, the UK celebrated several key coal-free milestones.

Almost 92 consecutive hours of coal-free generation were recorded over the long Easter weekend in April. The previous record was set in 2018 when the power grid went for more than three days (roughly 76 hours) without coal between 21 and 24 April.

Then, on 8 May, National Grid announced that the UK had completed its first week of coal-free generation since before the industrial revolution. That record was broken again in later May with almost two weeks without coal generation recorded. In total, there were 600 hours of coal-free generation in Britain during May.

While there are seasonal factors at play, accounting for the long performed temporary shutdowns of coal plants during lower demand periods in spring, it is worth noting that the first three months of 2019 saw the UK electricity grid clock up 650 hours of coal-free generation – more than was achieved during the entirety of 2017.

The progress comes as the UK Government is working to phase out coal generation by 2025.

Indeed, the year so far has seen three major power firms – EDF, SSE and RWE – confirm plans to close a UK-based, coal-fired power plant each.

Moreover, the National Grid ESO is planning to operate with zero-carbon electricity by 2025, after its own research found that the systems, products and services needed to support the transition to a decarbonised grid should be put in place over the next six years.

But, according to green energy experts, more needs to be done by the Government to support renewables and nuclear as coal comes offline. 

“With coal coming off the system in its entirety by 2025, and the expected retirement of much of our existing nuclear generation capacity by the early 2030s, these statistics highlight how we urgently need supportive policy that encourages the construction of a wide range of new renewable power sites, including onshore wind and solar PV,” the Renewable Energy Association’s head of policy Frank Gordon said. “We urge the government to open up auctions for ‘Pot 1’ generation technologies in the Contracts for Difference auctions to facilitate this.”

Sarah George

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Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    A Buxton Geothermal Turbine Generator is a lined and capped well, filled with water, which is ten kilometres deep. Because the ground heats up at a constant rate the deeper one digs, the cap of the well is at three times boiling point, the precise temperature at which power stations generate electricity with their turbine generators. Any power station can easily be converted to Buxton Geothermal Turbine Generators. The power they can generate is only limited by how wide the well is dug, and energy generation greater than nuclear power stations is easily possible. It should be noted that due to temperature variations in different localities, the well would have to be dug until the temperature at the bottom reached three times boiling point, which is an average of ten kilometres.

    As far as the cost of such a project is concerned, the recent Aachen bore hole was dug to a depth of 2.5 kilometres in three months, so we can assume that it would take just a year to get down to a depth where the rocks are at the temperature of three times boiling point. Figures available on the internet say that a bore hole of 5.54 kilometres costs 4.7 million, which equates to 8.5 million for a ten kilometre bore hole. This is thus a very cheap way of cleaning up the pollution caused by present power stations. There are approximately 107 main power stations in the UK producing 47 million tonnes of carbon (2004 figures) or 30% of the total UK production of carbon, and this would take 909.5 million to convert to BGTGs. A drop of 30% in carbon production would go a long way towards the Government’s present target of 60% of 1990 emissions by 2050. We must also compare the cost of converting all power stations to BGTGs with the conservative estimate of 2 billion to build just one nuclear power station. Information on other Super Deep Boreholes can be seen at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kola_Superdeep_Borehole

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