A gloriously sunny Spring has led to far higher than expected output for the Langar Lane Solar farm, with generation 30% above target for the month of April. What’s more, for the first time on record Great Britain’s electricity has run without coal-fired electricity for two full calendar months. A shining result for renewables!
For the first month since the industrial revolution, Great Britain’s electricity supply was 100% coal free this May, with almost half of generation coming from renewables, and more than 10% from solar farms such as our own at Langar Lane. Combined with lower energy demand on the grid caused by the Coronavirus crisis, the carbon intensity of the grid fell to the lowest level on record on Sunday 24 May, at just 46g CO2/kWh.
What’s more, the National Grid announced on the 9th June that Great Britain’s energy supply had used no coal for a second straight month, with the last coal generator coming off the system at midnight on Thursday 9th April, 61 days previous.
Further afield, Europe broke records by suppling 55% of the continent’s energy from renewable sources in May.
The next step…
However the news isn’t all positive. In order to stabilise the system in times of lower demand, the National Grid Electricity Service Operator (ESO) is paying small scale renewable generators to turn down or turn off their electricity generation; on 20th April alone this included turning off 1.8GW of wind generation and asking pumped storage operators to use electricity by pumping water uphill. Simultaneously the grid had to bring on more than 4GW of biomass and gas fired power stations to keep the system stable.
Clearly, the smooth running of the National Grid is a multifaceted challenge; supply must match demand, and it is understandably more straightforward to shut down smaller scale, more variable renewable generators than the larger, more predictable ones. However, whilst reducing generation from combustion-based sources conserves fuel stock, turning off renewables simply causes a loss of revenue and potential energy.
Going forward, it is necessary to challenge the priorities of the ESO and to consider how we can make a predominantly renewable energy system more adaptable in the future. District Network Operators such as Western Power Distribution, whose gross profits amounted to £733 million in the 2018/2019 financial year, can and must invest in developing a more renewables friendly network infrastructure.
The current crisis is unprecedented, but perhaps it will lead to long term changes in the way that our society works and consumes. We need to keep campaigning for a flexible low carbon energy system which can respond to fluctuations in demand without resorting to wasting precious resources.
To see how much of the National Grid’s energy supply is coming from renewables visit www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk