Great Britain Sets New Record Low For Electricity Carbon Intensity

Great Britain - electricity carbon intensity

Great Britain enjoyed its “greenest” electricity on Easter Monday afternoon – and solar energy’s contribution was significant.

National Grid ESO, the nation’s electricity system operator, said at 1pm local time on Monday electricity carbon intensity was just 39 grams per kilowatt hour. The previous record of 46 gCO2/kWh was set on May 24 last year.

Contributing to the new record were sunny and blustery conditions combined with low demand given Monday was a holiday.

Here’s what the zero-carbon elements of the electricity mix looked like at that point:

  • Wind power: 39% of the electricity mix
  • Solar power: a very respectable 21%
  • Nuclear: 16%

So, 60% was comprised of renewables.

In a tweet and article announcing the achievement, National Grid ESO also mentioned a few more records set over the last year or so.

  • Maximum wind power: 17,502MW on February 13, 2021
  • Maximum wind contribution: 59.9% on August 26, 2020
  • Maximum solar power: 9,680MW on April 20, 2020
  • Maximum solar power contribution: a third of Britain’s electricity supplies on several occasions in May 2020.
  • Maximum period without coal: 1,630 hours on June 16, 2020.

National Grid ESO also noted coal accounted for only 1.6% of the electricity mix in 2020, compared with almost 25% just five years ago. Great Britain was coal-free for more than 5,147 hours in 2020, compared with just 624 hours in 2017.

As for gas-fired electricity generation, we previously mentioned the minimum was 1,531MW on December 26, 2020; but perhaps there was an error in calculations as National Grid ESO is still indicating the record minimum of 1,556MW was set in October 2013.

Over the entire year, carbon intensity of electricity generation in 2020 was ~181 gCO2/kWh, compared to 266 gCO2/kWh in 2017.

The End Of Coal Power In Britain Is Nigh

2025 was the original deadline for the phase-out of coal power from Great Britain’s (and the UK’s) electricity system, but that could be brought forward a year to October 1, 2024.

Not that there’s a great deal left to phase out.

At the beginning of this year, there were just three emissions-belching coal burning power stations still operating. Then in March, Drax ended commercial coal power generation at its two remaining coal units in North Yorkshire. However, the company has some contracts for next winter and these units may be put back into service if the need arises.

The other two remaining coal plants in Great Britain are West Burton and Ratcliffe. West Burton, in Nottinghamshire, will be decommissioned from September 2022 – but only two of the four coal units will be available over the next 18 months, and only to meet capacity market commitments.

UK Solar Power Statistics

According to analysis released early this year, 545 megawatts of new solar PV capacity was deployed in the UK last year – a 27% year-on-year increase in new capacity compared with 2019. 60% of the new capacity consisted of ground-mounted PV systems, with the remain 40% installed on rooftops; primarily commercial and industrial buildings. By the end of last year, 13.9 gigawatts  of solar power capacity had been installed in the UK.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Isn’t it wonderful when a country doesn’t politicise energy generation.
    The Brits are justifyably proud of “their” acheivments.

    • Des Scahill, says

      Yes, and they are being helped along by their near neighbour Scotland.

      Five years ago (March 2016), Scotland shut down their LAST and largest coal generating plant, which on its own, had previously supplied some 25% of the electricity needed by all Scottish households
      See; https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/scotland-closes-longannet-last-coal-energy-plant/

      Fie years later, Australia is still subsidizing its coal plants.

      As well, Australia’s total renewable generation CAPACITY stood at 21% of total generation capacity in 2018-2019, according to the government energy website at: https://www.energy.gov.au/data/renewables.

      “Renewables'” includes hydro, wind, biomass, solar hot water and solar PV and a few other miscellaneous items. Rooftop solar PV, large scale solar and solar hot water altogether comprised 18% of total renewables, which means that in 2019, ‘Solar’ made up only 3.8% of the entire generating capacity of Australia as a whole.

      Just to clarify things. When you increase ‘capacity’ you are spending large amounts of money on building new generation, upgrading existing facilities, (eg. Snowy 2), expanding the grid etc, based on what you predict expect levels of ‘actual consumption’ will be in the future.

      Building for that future time obviously involves trying to take into account such things as future net population growth, rainfall and wind patterns, sunlight hours in different locations, which all vary hugely across Australia as a whole, and there’s a lot more variables involved than just the 4 mentioned.

      The complexity of it all makes it very easy at times to come up with comparisons that can unwittingly create misleading impressions even though there may have been no deliberate intention to do just that.

      It is probably true that Australia still has the highest rate of penetration for household roof top solar PV in the world, but its interesting to note that according to Canstarblue, com, back in 2016… ‘Most of the listed suburbs were recorded as having low to medium incomes and are generally located in outer metropolitan and rural areas’
      (see: https://www.canstarblue.com.au/solar-power/australias-top-solar-suburbs/ )

      The recent boom in roof-top solar will have increased it’s penetration, but as best I can tell, in my suburb this seems mostly driven by the strong desire of many individuals to reduce their large electricity bills, along with growing environmental concerns. A growing number of light industrial firms seem to be joining them as well,

      Belgium was mentioned on the 2016 Canstarblue web page referred to above. Their situation in 2020 is now quite different.

      According to RenewablesNow. com,
      “Renewables were responsible for 18.6% of Belgium’s power generation in 2020, marking a 31% year-on-year rise thanks to capacity additions and favourable weather.’

      See: https://renewablesnow.com/news/renewables-meet-186-of-belgiums-power-demand-in-2020-727303/

      That gives some further indication of the rate of progress toward renewable based generating facilities now occurring world wide.

  2. Geoff Miell says

    Citizens collectively are more likely to benefit if governments aren’t ‘owned’/captured by powerful vested interests.

    In the Independents CAN audio podcast 11 (duration 1:08:12), Tim Buckley, Director of Energy Finance Studies for South Asia and Australia at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), Sydney, discusses the extent to which the fossil fuel industry owns the Australian Government.
    https://soundcloud.com/independents-can-podcast/episode-11-tim-buckley

    And then there’s a YouTube video from The West Report titled “Gas-Led Recovery is a steaming pile of hot air!”, duration 0:31:05, with Michael West talking with gas analyst Bruce Robertson from IEEFA, discussing the myths around the gas-led recovery.

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