UK records lowest power grid carbon intensity

When the carbon intensity reached its lowest

At 1pm on Monday (5 April), the carbon intensity of the electricity grid fell to 39 grams of CO2, eclipsing the previous record of 46g of CO2 per KWh, which was set during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in May last year.

“This latest record is another example of how the grid continues to transform at an astonishing rate as we move away from fossil fuel generation and harness the growth of renewable power sources,” said Fintan Slye, National Grid Electricity System Operator’s director.

“It’s an exciting time, and the progress we’re seeing with these records underlines the significant strides we’re taking towards our ambition of being able to operate the system carbon-free by 2025.”

When the carbon intensity reached its lowest, wind energy accounted for 39% of the electricity mix, with solar and nuclear delivering 21% and 16% respectively. Low-carbon sources accounted for almost 80% of Britain’s total power, according to National Grid ESO.

Last year, the UK set numerous records when it came to coal-free generation and low-carbon power provision.

Britain went 55 days without relying on coal for power in the summer of 2020, which was the second-longest stretch on record, behind the 67 days recorded at the start of that year.

In 2020, energy requirements for industrial use and services such as shops and offices were down 8% compared to 2019. As a result, energy demand in the domestic sector climbed by 2%.

Transport also delivered its biggest decline in energy consumption, dropping 28% compared to 2019. This was largely driven by a 60% decline in aviation demand. According to the statistics, transport energy consumption in 2020 is comparable to mid-1980 levels, with diesel and petrol demand also down 17% and 21% respectively.

Despite the economic uncertainties caused by Covid-19, renewable generation reached new heights, contributing to a 42.9% share of generation. This outpaces fossil fuel generation, which contributed 38.5% of generation, a new record low and down by half compared to 2010 levels.

While the pandemic also created low outputs for nuclear, the broader low-carbon generation reached a record 59%. Overall, total final energy consumption was 13% lower compared to 2019.

Britain experienced its first coal-free day following industrialisation in April 2017 and, since then, has broken its coal-free generation records several times. 

Matt Mace

Comments (2)

  1. Chris Reynolds says:

    It would be interesting to know, during this same period how much electricity was supplied from overseas (If any) and the same breakdown (Wind, Solar, Nuclear) given for that.

  2. Lawrence Rose says:

    Well done to Fintan Slye for finding something positive to say about renewables this year. To him perhaps one swallow does make a summer.

    The reality is that during Q1 2021 – with a very similar demand to the same period in 2020 including much reduced demand due to COVID lockdowns etc. – wind generated almost 20% less than it did in 2020. Why was that? Well, it was the wind – too little or too much – which we can’t do anything about.

    To compensate for this, we used more than 20% extra gas to generate electricity. That will definitely not help us achieve our emissions targets.

    Other highlights include the fact that during w/c 1 March 2021 for 40% of the week coal was producing more electricity than all onshore and offshore wind combined.

    In fact, taking Fintan Slye’s (i.e. the National Grid’s) 5 Year Forecast for coal use, their forecast for the whole of 2021 was passed on 4 January. That’s really not very good, is it?

    These figures can readily be checked using the official figures on the Elexon website.

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