New coal-free power generation record for the UK grid

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NEW record for longest period of coal-free electricity generation in Britain has been confirmed by National Grid ESO.

Coal power has been offline since 00:00 on Friday 10 April 2020, and since then the UK has seen more than 1 terawatt hour of solar power put on the grid in that period – enough to boil water for over 25 billion cups of tea or drive 6.7 billion kilometres in a Nissan Leaf.

The previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes – set in June last year – was broken at 6.10am this morning, marking over 438 hours and 10 minutes since the last coal generator came off the system at midnight on Thursday 9 April.

Fintan Slye, director of ESO, commented on the news: “2020 is shaping up to be a record-breaking year for Great Britain’s electricity system, and I’ve little doubt we’ll see more exciting developments as the growth and performance of renewables continues to transform our grid at an astonishing rate.

“Within a matter of days we’ve seen a new solar generation record, and the longest period of coal-free operation in Britain.

“And that follows two of the greenest months on record at the start of the year, underlining the progress that’s being made towards our target of being able to operate the electricity system entirely with zero carbon sources by 2025.

“We’ve been planning, investing in the system and working with industry for years to make sure we’re ready to run a coal-free system with an increasing share of renewables, introducing new technologies and more intelligent ways of using energy to make sure the system is flexible and resilient to the challenges that decarbonisation brings.

“A zero carbon grid is a stretching target, but it’s crucially important – and milestones like our latest coal-free run show that Great Britain is leading the world in transitioning to net zero.”

Earlier in the year, February became the greenest month on record for UK electricity generation, with average carbon intensity – the measure of CO2 emissions produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed – reaching a new low.

Weather continues to play the central role in determining the mix of electricity, but reduced levels of electricity demand play a role too.

Lockdown measures in place since late March have seen a significant reduction in demand across the country, with an increase in domestic consumption being outweighed by reduced industrial demand.

The change in demand, along with frequent sunny and windy spells across the country, are all contributing factors to the latest records.

STA Chief Executive Chris Hewett added: “Solar is playing a critical role in delivering a fossil-free grid and cleaner, cheaper power to Britain.

“As we look towards a net zero future, solar will become an increasingly greater part of the energy mix, tackling high power prices, climate change, and biodiversity loss.”

“With the Government beginning to consider how best to kick-start the economy following the Covid-19 crisis, it has a golden opportunity to place renewables at the heart of its recovery package.

“Solar in particular can provide a glut of quality green jobs and growth at short notice, with your average solar park able to be built in less than six months, and home installation in less than a day.

“The industry is ready to help drive the revival.”

Last week’s bumper generation levels delivering over 11% of UK electricity demand and setting both a new daily peak generation record of 9.68GW at 12:30 on Monday 20 April 2020, and weekly generation record at 485.41GWh.

As part of a planned phase out, use of coal for electricity generation has fallen sharply in recent years, from 70% in 1990 to only 2.3% in the past 12 months.

Over the past 28 days it has accounted for only 0.7% of UK power, compared to more than 57% from low-carbon sources.

The UK Government has committed to phasing the high-carbon fuel out by 2024.