The COVID-19-related lockdowns has made Britain’s electricity system cleaner and cheaper, but harder to control, according to the latest Drax Electric Insights report on Monday.
Lower demand for energy, combined with exceptional weather-driven renewables, is driving prices and carbon emissions down to record levels and decreasing the need for nuclear and fossil fuel power, the report revealed.
The second quarter was the cleanest every with carbon emissions falling by a third compared to the same period last year while carbon intensity fell to a new record low of 21 grams per kilowatt/hour on the Spring Bank holiday.
“At one point, renewable electricity sources were providing almost 70% (69.5%) of Britain’s electricity,” it said.
Although wholesale prices declined by 42% as a result of declining demand over the period due to the lockdown, the report said balancing prices increased from just 5% of wholesale prices usually over the past decade to 20%, with the expense of the measures taken to stabilize the market reaching £100 million per month in the first half of 2010.
“The past few months have given the country a glimpse into the future for our power system, with higher levels of renewable energy and lower demand making for a difficult balancing act,” Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, and lead author of the quarterly Electric Insights explained.
The report found that wind and solar power provided a lot of the electricity required by the grid over the past few months, which helped carbon intensity fall to its lowest on record to an average of 153 grams per kilowatt/hour over the second quarter.
However, it added that these renewable resources are unable to provide all the services needed to stabilize the system, which is essential for maintaining the grid’s frequency at 50Hz and preventing power cuts.
“The last few months have underlined the importance of flexible, low carbon technologies to enable the UK’s power system to evolve and provide the secure and sustainable electricity supplies a zero carbon economy needs,” said Mike Maudsley, Drax Group’s UK Portfolio generation director.
The UK’s electricity output from wind, solar and biomass were each up more than 10% on the second quarter of last year.
May was Britain’s first coal-free calendar month since the Industrial Revolution as the country went an unprecedented 67 days without this fuel on the grid. On June 28, demand fell to its lowest levels this century, falling below 17 gigawatts.
The country’s four pumped hydro storage power stations supplied a record 7.9% of power at one stage during the quarter as they helped to balance the system and keep it stable.
By Sibel Morrow