Coronavirus lockdown: UK hits coal-free month

The UK has gone more than 30 days without relying on coal for power, with gas, nuclear and renewables providing enough demand during a period of lower energy demand because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Coronavirus lockdown: UK hits coal-free month

Coronavirus lockdowns have seen national energy demand fall by 15% for the month of April.

As of Sunday morning (10 May), the UK had surpassed 30 days and seven hours without coal-fired power, the nation’s longest stretch ever recorded, as confirmed by the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO).

The UK’s month without coal was largely driven by reduced energy demands from reduced industrial and business productivity because of the lockdown. However, enabling weather patterns have also enabled wind and solar to account for 23% of total demand for the 30-day period. In fact, coronavirus lockdowns have seen national energy demand fall by 15% for the month of April.

Gas has accounted for almost one-third (32%) of demand during the 727+ hours of coal-free generation, while nuclear accounted for 22%. The remainder of the energy mix comes from imports (12%), biomass (9%), large hydro (1%) and storage (<1%).

In May 2019, the UK went a fortnight without coal-fired power for the first time since the pre-industrial period. That record was then surpassed again a month later. The UK then surpassed that milestone two weeks ago.

Great Britain experienced its first coal-free day following industrialisation in April 2017 and, since then, has broken its coal-free generation records several times. In fact, 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 record is partly attributable to a severe fall in electricity demand due to the coronavirus lockdown, but also because of a spike in solar generation. Solar use in the UK broke an all-time peak generation record on in April (20 April), accounting for almost 30% of UK electricity demand for that day.

At 12:30 on Monday, solar generation reached a peak of 9.68GW, according to the Sheffield Solar live PV generation tracker. The previous record was set at 9.55GW recorded on 13 May 2019. At the time of the peak, solar was meeting almost 30% of UK electricity demand.

In fact, the National Grid may send out a call to action to turn off some low-carbon generation in order to avoid an overload.

Matt Mace

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