Great Britain has just experienced its greenest-ever month in May due to the absence of coal-fire utilisation on its electricity grid. This absence of coal-fire use is the first time since 1882.
The energy system operator, the National Grid, said that the sunniest spring season this year contributed to an increase in solar power, reducing carbon intensity to its lowest ever recorded on the grid. The electricity mix in Britain during May was made up of a remarkable 28% from wind and solar power, brought about by the sunny and breezy weather. It narrowly came behind gas-fired generation at 30%.
Additionally, the current COVID-19 crisis has led to record-low demand in electricity, leaving coal-fired power plants little room in contributing to the generation mix.
Great Britain was able to run its electricity system sans coal-powered generation for around 45 consecutive days in April, enabling the significant decrease of carbon intensity at only 143 grams of CO2/kWh. On Sunday, 24th May, carbon intensity was recorded at its lowest ever at46 grams CO2/kWh.
The stay-at-home orders issued by the government have led to the downward spiral of energy demand in the country, leading to record lows in carbon intensity as well. Two bank holidays took place in a fortnight that also contributed to the decreased energy use in domestic and commercial properties.
National Grid Control Centre head, Roisin Quinn, shared that the biggest help to the greenest month on record was the unseasonably sunny spring weather. It was the sunniest since 1929, when the first records began, as revealed by Met Office. It was also the driest May in all of 124 years. The Met Office was able to record over 573 hours of sunshine from 1st March to 27th May, beating the previous record (555.3 hours in 1948) by over 20 hours. In May alone, the record was set at 266 hours of sunshine.
National Grid Control Centre head Roisin Quinn maintained that the primary reason was the unseasonably bright spring weather. It was the sunniest since 1929 when the first records began, as revealed by Met Office. It was also the driest May in all of 124 years. The Met Office was able to record over 573 hours of sunshine from 1st March to 27th May, beating the previous record (555.3 hours in 1948) by over 20 hours. In May alone, the record was set at 266 hours of sunshine.
Quinn added that throughout May, there were 744 consecutive hours of coal-free electricity generation—the longest it has been since the Industrial Revolution.
The combination of record-high renewable power and record-low electricity demand is a unique situation for the industry. Quinn stated the engineers needed to balance the output to ensure that the rising renewable energy did not cause an overload on the grid.
As demand falls, the National Grid Energy System Operator (NGESO) estimates that it will spend £500 million to pay generators to switch off solar projects, power plants, or wind farms to prevent overloading the grid.
During the May holiday weekend alone, NGESO reportedly spent £50 million for shutting down the supplies of electricity generators. It also offered another £50 million contract to Sizewell B nuclear plant to cut its capacity by half to limit the energy supply.
The surging of renewable energy has helped keep coal off the national grid since the 9th of April. While the reduction of coal-fired power was welcomed, it had presented a challenge to NGESO, prompting the firm to utilise different measures to ensure that the grid remains balanced.
The bank holiday weekend during Easter made demand fall to record-lows, gaining only 24.36GW on 11th of May, Saturday. The second bank holiday weekend saw a drop on day-ahead power prices to -£52.03/MWh, the lowest it has ever been on record.
National Grid Chief Executive John Pettigrew joined more than 200 industry leaders to urge the government to develop a COVID-19 action and recovery plan that matches the long-term climate and environmental goals of the UK.
Pettigrew penned a letter to the PM relaying that the energy industry has been playing their part in supplying UK hospitals and homes steadily amid the crisis, while also delivering essential infrastructure projects to make the country future-ready.
Furthermore, Pettigrew said the sector would be needing a significant number of recruits to achieve the net-zero goals by 2025. He stated that the nation should work towards marrying climate action with economic recovery to ensure that opportunities are maximised in light of the pandemic.