May 10 marked the UK’s first month with 100% coal-free electricity, something that has not happened since the industrial revolution. With the reduction in energy demand due to the ongoing lockdown, industries have now been provided with a view of what the energy sector would look like in the years to come as the UK works to phase out coal-based generation.
The National Grid ESO has announced this milestone achievement just recently. It comes in just a few days after an energy provider appealed to its consumers to use electricity over the Bank Holiday weekend. This was done so that renewable power would not have to be shut off. As per the operator’s official statement, as of noon on Sunday, Britain had been without coal-generated electricity for 727 hours, or 30 days and 6 hours.
As per an official statistic released by Drax, a leading energy firm, over 70% of the UK’s power during the coal-free month came from low-carbon sources. The largest contribution to this was from gas-powered plants, providing over 30% of the energy. This was followed by Nuclear sources with 21%, 18% from wind, 9% from biomass, and 8% from solar energy. The remaining 11% came from imports and hydro & pumped facilities supplied another 1.5.
Much of this is attributed to the stark fall in demand after the coronavirus lockdown. It caused demand to fall by over 15% during April. However, not all is good with the decrease in energy demand, as power plants must manage an increased surplus supply. Octopus, a leading energy supplier in the UK, offered to pay its consumers if they used more electricity as it would help the grid to cope. As per an official statement, Octopus revealed that there is a low demand for energy, which coupled together with the renewable energy options means that non-renewable sources must be shut down.
The demand has decreased as compared to the same period in previous years. This is in large part due to the nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a gradual ease in lockdown restrictions, and its impact on energy demand will be seen in the coming months.
The United Kingdom had planned to phase out using coal-generated power by 2025. The National Grid aims to operate its net-zero power grid, provided weather conditions permit, from 2025. This has now been accelerated and as per an official announcement in February, the government is looking to move the deadline forward to October 2024. The last few months witnessed 2 more coal plants across the country closing, while in Northern Ireland, the Kilroot plant is also being converted to utilise gas instead of coal.
As per a report from The Times, The National Grid had reached out to Ofgem asking for a decrease in generation from small solar and wind farms. It also reported that the National Grid and EDF had commenced negotiations for payments to shut down nuclear power plants for a specific period if needed. This contract was signed earlier this month. It also granted them emergency powers from Ofgem so that the grid operator would be able to effectively manage demand and supply, even though demand continued to fall to record levels.
Britain already has a strong presence in the renewable energy sector, especially with the surge in solar power. A record high was set on 20th April when 9.68GW of solar power was generated close to 12:30 PM. A weekly record was also set with 485.41GWh being generated by solar power in the week that started the same day.
This period has been termed as a glimpse of what the future of the UK could be like- a grid with most of its energy coming from renewable sources. This milestone is a major achievement in the nation’s journey to becoming coal-free by 2025 or sooner.