How Britain’s grid became ‘cleaner, cheaper, and harder to control’ during the Covid-19 lockdown

The study talks about the need for more ‘grid flexibility’, but as one union leader put it: “The political aspiration is for a low carbon future but politicians have no credible way of delivering it”. Despite the ‘cheaper’ claim, it turns out that ‘the costs of managing the grid skyrocketed to a record high’, which looks ominous given existing energy policies.
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Lockdown measures taken to combat Covid-19 in March led to a much greener and cheaper electricity system in Britain in the weeks that followed, but at the same time the increased reliance on renewables made managing the grid far more challenging, offering a glimpse of the UK’s future power requirements as the economy transitions towards net zero emissions.

That is the conclusion of independent research released today by Imperial College London and energy firm Drax, which saw experts assess the tumultuous impact of the coronavirus crisis on Britain’s electricity system from April to June 2020, a period characterised by near historically low levels of demand for power, says BusinessGreen.

As offices and factories shut up shop and millions of people were furloughed or working from home across the country during the second quarter of the year, electricity demand plummeted and renewable electricity took up its highest ever share of the energy mix, leading to record low CO2 emissions from the grid.

The situation reduced the need for fossil fuel power such as coal and gas, and also led to curbed demand for nuclear power, as cheaper forms of renewable power such as wind and solar shouldered the lion’s share of Britain’s electricity needs.

At one point, renewable electricity sources provided almost 70 per cent of Britain’s electricity, according to the research.

As a result, the carbon intensity of the grid averaged just 153g of CO2 per kilowatt hour (g/kWh) over the three month period, the lowest level on record, the experts said. At the same time wholesale electricity prices also fell dramatically by 42 per cent as a result of plummeting power demand and the low marginal cost of renewable power.

However, the report also highlighted how record low demand for power combined with high levels of intermittent renewable energy sources posed new challenges for Britain’s grid operators, resulting in costs of around £100m a month as operators were forced to incentivise generators to take to power plants offline to help stabilise the system.

While grid balancing costs have typically made up around five per cent of wholesale power prices on average over the past decade, the new analysis estimates that balancing costs rose to around 20 per cent of power prices during the lockdown period, as National Grid ESO moved quickly to ensure appropriate supply and demand at all times in order to keep the lights on.

As such blackout fears proved unfounded, but the costs of managing the grid skyrocketed to a record high of £718m in the five months after lockdown measures kicked in, Ofgem revealed earlier this month, prompting the regulator to announced a review of grid management firm National Grid ESO’s actions over the period.

Full report here.

via Tallbloke’s Talkshop

August 31, 2020 at 04:33AM

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