No coal for a week anticipates new generation pattern

The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) confirmed the first ever week of coal-free operation of Great Britain’s electricity system on 8 May.

The last coal generator came off the system in the afternoon of Wednesday 1 May and a week later there had still been no contribution from coal-fired power generators.

Yet a glance at any of the on-line grid watch website shows that gas-fired power stations continue to dominate the generation mix, with a steady contribution from nuclear and variable – and growing – additions from wind, solar and biomass.

ESO – a legally separate business within the National Grid Group – relies on a mix of generation to balance the system and ensure that, whatever the generation mix, electricity is always there when we need it.

Fintan Slye, Director of ESO, said: ‘At 1.24 pm today, we will reach over a week of no coal being used to operate the electricity system. While this is the first time this has happened, I predict it will become the “new normal”. As more and more renewables come onto our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence.’ But Slye went further: ‘We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon.’

‘Zero-carbon operation of the electricity system by 2025 means a fundamental change to how our system was designed to operate, integrating newer technologies right across the system – from large scale offshore wind to domestic-scale solar panels to increased demand side participation, using new smart digital systems to manage and control the system in real-time,’ added Slye.

He continued: ‘We have been working with industry over the last few years to ensure the services we require to operate the network are not dependent on coal. We have been forecasting the closure of coal plant and reduced running for some time – due to us having to manage more renewables on the system. Transmission owners have invested in their networks accordingly and we have refined our operational strategies and real time operation of the network to ensure continued secure and economic operation.’

‘To reach zero carbon operation by 2025, we will continue to identify the systems, services and products we will require to run a zero-carbon network and design the new competitive marketplaces needed to source these as efficiently as possible from both new and existing companies.’

Particularly clear, bright conditions helped solar to break the all-time generation record for the technology in the UK on 13 May. The Solar Trade Association reported that, around noon, solar hit a generation peak of 9.5 GW, surpassing the previous record of 9.4 GW set in May 2017.

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