The Energy (R)Evolution Part 2: ‘The Beast From the East’

Earlier this year, in our blog post titled The Energy (R)Evolution, we discussed the record-breaking year for renewables and low-carbon technologies in 2017.  Today, we look back at the first 3 months of 2018 and what it means for the industry moving forward.

In the weeks since our last blog post, the UK has experienced some of the coldest weather in decades and it has highlighted that whilst last-year may have been a watershed moment for renewables, there is a long road ahead to achieve a sustainable grid that can operate without support from coal power plants.

Coal Resurrection

Prior to the week of extreme weather, coal’s use in the UK had remained consistently in the single digits.  However, with a sustained demand for power that reached 50GWs at periods, the grid went from 1-2GW of coal to over 10GW during peak demand.

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Drax Electric Insights for the week commencing 26th of February 2018

This graph is also notable for the sizeable contribution wind generation made during the cold snap.  On the 1st of March, when demand hit 52GW, wind was providing 25% (13GW) of generation – which was greater than the 21% (11GW) coal was providing.  Not only did wind’s contribution exceed that of coal at crucial times, it also provided a mostly consistent output over the week.  Wind generation remained consistently above 10% – only dipping below this on a few occasions.  At times, wind even provided more than 30% of the UK’s generation needs.

Wind’s contribution in ensuring that the UK did not encounter a severe gas shortage is certainly noteworthy.

The Future of Security of Supply

Whilst, it’s important to recognise that the weather rarely reaches the extremes of recent weeks; it’s during these times, that the grid must be able to provide resilience and security of supply.

In early March, the National Grid alerted that gas supplies were running low as a result of the unrelenting demand, forcing other technologies to fulfil the requirement.  This caused wholesale gas prices to spike more than 70%.  However, these costs will primarily be felt by large energy consumers rather than households.  A National Grid spokesperson said:

“Due to the cold weather some supplies have tripped but we’re also seeing some come back. We are in communication with terminal operators and closely monitoring the situation. Market prices are high, reflecting the supply and demand position.”

The recent weather has been a stark reminder of how far we have to go to truly achieve a resilient grid with high renewable penetration.  However, it should also be recognised that the grid managed remarkably well under the circumstances.  Only time will tell what impact grid-scale energy storage will have during weeks like this as more and more systems come online every day.