Significant decline in air pollution and cool, sunny weather sees UK solar generate all-time high of 9.69GW on Monday
Cool, sunny weather and the low air pollution levels caused by the coronavirus lockdown have helped drive a new all-time solar power record in the UK, with solar farms generating a peak of 9.69GW of electricity for the grid on Monday afternoon.
The feat was recorded by the University of Sheffield's live UK solar power generation tracker at 12.30pm on Monday, surpassing the previous record achieved in May 2019 of 9.55GW. The result is thought to have been in part driven by clearer, less polluted skies.
The UK is currently experiencing significantly lower levels of air pollution due to far fewer cars on the roads or polluting industrial activities taking place amid restrictions aimed at curbing spread of Covid-19, which has resulted in clearer weather conditions.
Clearer air, combined with relatively cool temperatures and sunny weather, provides optimal conditions for maximising solar PV efficiency, according to the Solar Trade Association (STA), which said it expected more solar generation records to be broken in the coming weeks and months.
The result means that at the time of the peak on Monday UK solar PV generators were meeting almost 30 per cent of the UK's overall electricity demand, according to STA chief executive Chris Hewett.
"Ideal weather conditions and lower levels of pollution than normal mean solar is providing record levels of cheap, clean power to the grid," said Hewett. "At a time when most of us are working remotely, we can say that solar is truly keeping the WiFi on."
A decline in economic activity and many Britons working from home has seen a dramatic drop in demand for electricity, which together with an abundance of solar and wind power on the grid has helped contribute to the lengthiest period without coal power in the UK so far in 2020, which currently stands at more than 11 days and counting.
The latest record follows news earlier this month that renewable power contributed a record 44.6 per cent of the UK's electricity during the first quarter of the year
Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive of trade body the REA, said renewables had "once again raised the bar" with the new solar record.
"This is an astonishing feat and indicates only the beginning of what the industry is capable of," she said. "However, for this to continue into the future, the renewables and clean technologies industry needs assurance that in this trying time the fight against climate change remains a top priority for the government."
Further renewables records are expected to fall across Europe in the coming months, as the coronavirus crisis leads to lower than normal levels of energy demand, meaning that renewables command a larger share of the electricity mix.
In its latest update today, leading energy analyst firm Aurora Energy Research revealed power demand across Europe has fallen by between 10 and 20 per cent due to the health crisis, with energy-related commodity prices down more than 40 per cent.
Power prices have also fallen by between 30 and 40 per cent across Europe and low prices are set to persist until 2022 at the earliest. "The effect of Coronavirus has rippled through European energy markets - significantly reducing demand and prices of gas and electricity," said Felix Chow-Kambitsch, head of commissioned projects for Western Europe at Aurora Energy Research. "European power utilities are likely to experience a significant fall in revenues in 2020, with merchant-exposed renewables schemes significantly affected. The low gas price environment will improve the competitiveness of gas power stations relative to coal - creating upside for gas generators in Germany, but significantly reducing revenues for coal generators in Poland."
Meanwhile, subsidised renewables schemes such as those in operation in the UK, Germany, and France, will see revenues partly or fully protected by government despite the fall in market prices - although these higher subsidy costs will still feed through to billpayers or taxpayers.
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