Great Britain on track for periods of zero carbon electricity in 2025, says new report

(Image by National Grid ESO)

Great Britain’s electricity system is on track to be powered free of fossil fuels and at 100% zero carbon in just four years’ time, according to a new National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) report.

According to the electricity system operator for Great Britain, this is a key enabler for a zero carbon electricity system by 2035, in line with the sixth Carbon Budget.

At present the ESO control room needs to draw on conventional power plants (typically gas) to deliver system reliability and manage properties such as voltage and frequency.

By 2025, ESO reports it will have transformed its operation of the electricity system, so that when there is enough zero carbon generation available, it can deliver electricity to Great Britain without using any fossil fuels.

Fintan Slye, National Grid ESO Executive Director commented: “We’re confident that by 2025 we will have periods of 100% zero carbon electricity, with no fossil fuels used to generate power in Great Britain.

“As with coal-free operation of the grid these may be short periods at first but will still be a significant milestone on the road to net zero, and these periods will quickly extend.

“The growth in renewable sources of power, with record levels of wind and solar, means there will be enough zero carbon generation to meet demand.

“A key challenge is ensuring the electricity system is ready to accommodate that power.

“There’s still plenty of hard work ahead but it’s an exciting time and getting to this position has been a huge team effort from everyone across the entire energy industry.

“Electricity systems are at the forefront of the energy transition and have the potential to be a catalyst to accelerate decarbonisation on a global basis.

“Now is the time to come together, share learnings and bring about lasting change.”

Since 2016 Britain’s electricity has been over two-thirds zero carbon for 5,000 half hour periods, over 100 days cumulatively.

In 2019, zero carbon sources outstripped fossil fuelled electricity generation for the first time ever and 1.30pm on 17th of August that year saw the highest share of zero carbon power ever seen at 85.1% (wind 39%, solar 25%, nuclear 20% and hydro 1%).

Wednesday 12th of February 2020 saw ‘the highest ever’ output from zero carbon generators, 28.8GW. This is enough to power 10 million homes for a week.

More recent ESO electricity records and statistics include:

  • At 1pm on Easter Monday 5th April 2021 the carbon intensity of electricity – the measure of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity consumed – dropped to 39 gCO2, ‘the greenest Great Britain’s electricity grid has ever been.’
  • Coal generated only 1.6% of electricity in 2020, compared with almost 25% five years ago.
  • Spring 2020 saw Britain’s longest run since the industrial revolution generating electricity without using coal, stretching almost 68 days (1,630 hours) between April 10th and June 16th.
  • The record for the highest-ever level of wind generation and proportion of the mix was broken on 21st May 2021 (17.7GW and 62.1%)

National Grid ESO’s new report, which shares how Great Britain’s electricity system has changed since 1990, is available on their website.