Power Grid

25 Jul 2019

Renewables Supply More Than Half of UK's Electricity

25 Jul 2019  by Michael Holder   
Sunny, windy conditions on June 30 saw renewables supply more than half of UK's electricity, data commissioned by Drax shows

The UK's electricity system was operating at its lowest ever carbon intensity at the end of June, when a combination of sunny, windy weather and low demand saw renewables generate more than half of the country's power, data released today by Drax reveals.

On Sunday 30 June carbon emissions from electricity fell to just 97g per kilowatt hour, breaking the previous record of 104g/kWh set last summer.

The result means that for the first time the UK met the Committee on Climate Change's daily target for the UK grid to produce less than 100g/kWh by 2030, Drax said.

The same day 52 per cent of UK electricity was powered by renewables - the highest ever share for a single day - thanks to windy and sunny conditions. Wind dominated provided 39 per cent of the power mix, with a further nine per cent from solar, eight per cent from biomass, and one per cent from hydropower.

Demand was also particularly low that day as it was a Sunday, so more people were at home rather than using power in schools or offices. At one point during the middle of the afternoon, fossil fuels supplied just 9.5 per cent of the UK power, according to the data, which was compiled by a team of academics from Imperial College London on behalf of the energy firm.

Imperial College London's Dr Iain Staffell, who helped compile the data for Drax, said Britain's power system was decarbonising at a faster rate than any other country in the world.

"We have spent more than half the summer without a single coal power station turned on, and renewables are breaking new records all the time," he explained. "As a result our power stations are producing 100 million tonnes less CO2 a year than they were just six years ago. The amount of carbon saved is equivalent to taking every single car and van off the UK's roads, or what would be produced if every single person in the UK flew to Beijing and back."

It came as the UK saw the lowest ever monthly demand for power in June at 29.4GW thanks to longer, warmer summer days, which beat the previous record of 29.6GW in August 2017.

Overall, it means CO2 emissions from power on June 30 were 72 per cent lower than the most carbon intensive day of 2019 on January 24, which had a carbon intensity of 347g/kWh.

Staffell hailed the "fantastic progress" in decarbonising the power system, but stressed there was still a long journey ahead for the UK to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. "To make a real difference to the climate crisis, we must waste no time in using this low-carbon electricity to clean up our transport and buildings," he said.

Drax itself recorded a 52 per cent drop in its own carbon emissions during the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2018, thanks in part to 94 per cent of the company's electricity coming from the biomass units at its North Yorkshire station.

The company is currently trialling carbon capture and storage technology at one of its biomass units which it hopes to scale up in order to produce 'negative emissions' from its activities in future. Earlier this year it also acquired several pumped storage, gas and hydropower assets from Iberdrola.

The data release came as the energy firm today published its half year financial results for 2019, which show a 35 per cent increase in earnings compared to the same period last year, reaching £138m.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said the company was now producing more renewable and flexible power to support the UK grid.

"Having converted another generating unit at Drax Power Station to use biomass instead of coal last year, we're now producing more renewable power at the times it is needed most - but we we'd like to go further," he said. "If we can scale up our successful bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, Drax could become the world's first negative emissions power station in the mid-2020s, helping to achieve the government's net zero by 2050 carbon target."

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