UK smashes solar generation record
Solar use in the UK broke an all-time peak generation record on Monday (20 April), accounting for almost 30% of UK electricity demand, with the UK also operating for more than 11 consecutive days without coal.
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.
Generating conditions are currently favourable, in part due to lower than usual levels of pollution as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.
Commenting on the stats, the STA’s chief executive Chris Hewett said: “Ideal weather conditions and lower levels of pollution than normal mean solar is providing record levels of cheap, clean power to the grid. At a time when most of us are working remotely, we can say that solar is truly keeping the WiFi on.”
The record is the latest milestone on the UK’s journey to decarbonise its grid.
In its latest renewables update, covering July-September 2019, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) revealed that renewable electricity generation during the period was 28.8TWh, compared to 28.6TWh for gas. The update states that 28.8TWh was equivalent to 38.9% of generation during the quarter – the highest generation proportion secured by renewables on record.
However, solar PV accounted for just 1.4% of renewable generation in that period and accounted for 3.9% of total 2019 electricity generation.
The STA is expecting the Covid-19 outbreak to dampen forecasted growth in unsubsidised large scale solar and commercial rooftops in 2020.
Once the pandemic is overcome, however, the market for renewables in the UK is likely to re-gather momentum, as shorter-term policy measures are developed and implemented to bolster the long-term net-zero target. Meeting the UK’s target, the CCC has repeatedly concluded, will require renewable energy generation capacity to quadruple within 30 years.
BEIS statistics show that 43% fewer small-scale PV installations were made across the UK in February 2020 than in February 2019 – a trend the department attributes almost entirely to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT closure). This is despite the introduction of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), designed by BEIS to ensure that businesses and residents creating and exporting solar electricity to the grid will be guaranteed payments. Unlike with FiTs, the SEG payment comes from energy suppliers rather than central Government.
The peak record in solar generation also contributed to the UK’s longest coal-free period in 2020 so far. The UK has currently gone 11.5 days without coal-fired power, the STA notes, closing in on the record levels recorded last year.
In May 2019, the UK went a fortnight without coal-fired power for the first time since the pre-industrial period.
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.