Electricity grid smashed several records over the bank holiday weekend, with low demand and high renewables output cutting both CO2 and flexible tariff prices
Carbon emissions from Great Britain's power system achieved a number of record lows over the bank holiday weekend, thanks to a drop in energy demand and high levels of solar and wind grid penetration, according to energy firm Drax.
Drax's electricity tracker has revealed that Saturday was the lowest-carbon day in the history of Great Britain's electricity grid, with average carbon intensity averaging at 61 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, trouncing a previous low of 76g CO2/kWh recorded on 17 August 2019.
And in the early afternoon on Sunday, the grid hit another environmental milestone when it dipped to its lowest carbon intensity ever, dropping to 18g CO2/kWh for more than an hour. At the time, 65 per cent of power was sourced from renewables. The previous all-time emissions low record of 43g CO2/kWh was also set in August 2019.
Dr Iain Staffell, lecturer in sustainable energy at Imperial College London whose team leads Drax's regular Electric Insights report series, welcomed the feat. "Britain's power system breaking all records today - this is the lowest carbon electricity we have ever seen," he said. "Average numbers would be 200g if carbon per unit (or 500g a few years back). Today it's under 20! Who says you can't rely on renewables?"
Meanwhile, Luke Clark, director of strategic communications at trade body RenewableUK, hailed the weekend's low-carbon achievements as "incredible".
This is really incredible. First time electricity supply went below 100g CO2 was just 3 years ago. When I started working in renewables it was averaging >400g and we spent years arguing about whether to set a *2030* target of 100g. Progress can be both quiet and spectacular https://t.co/AOEKl6G7kg— Luke Clark (@luketdclark) May 24, 2020
A previous report in Drax's Electric Insights series earlier this year noted that British power emissions had fallen by roughly two thirds between 2019 and 2010, or to 54 million tonnes from 161 million tonnes, as generators had shifted away from coal and natural gas to renewables. The analysis also uses consumption-based accounting, meaning it adds on CO2 emitted in other countries for electricity imported to Britain, and also subtracts CO2 saved in other countries when it is exported, the firm explained.
In addition, low electricity demand prompted by the coronavirus lockdown combined with high periods of wind and solar generation also saw wholesale electricity prices fall to a record low on Friday, the Drax report reveals, meaning that customers on increasingly common flexible electricity tariffs will have been paid to use electricity at times of least demand in order to help soak up oversupply.
"Across the whole 24-hour period, the average day-ahead wholesale price was negative £9.92 per MWh - more than twice as low as the previous record, set on Sunday 8 December 2019, of negative £4.62/MWh," Drax analysis states. "In the early hours of Friday morning, the day-ahead price was as low as negative £52.03 per MWh."
Electricity demand has nosedived around the world as coronavirus lockdown measures have seen energy-intensive business and industry shuttered. The International Energy Agency has forecast that global electricity demand is set to decline by five per cent this year, marking the largest drop since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Electricity consumption patterns on weekdays during the crisis resemble pre-crisis Sundays, it said.
Record low demand for power in the UK even led to more than 80 wind farms across England and Scotland being paid a record £9.3m by National Grid to switch off their turbines on Friday in order to avoid overloading the power system, according to The Telegraph.
The constraint payments - doled out for when energy supply outstrips demand - are double the previous single day record pay-out to farm operators, which was £4.8m in October 2018, the newspaper reports.
RenewableUK's Clark told The Telegraph the constraint payments are the "cheapest way for National Grid to run the electricity network within its current limits". "All types of generation, including fossil fuels, receive them, but unlike older technologies, wind farms can turn off or on within a matter of seconds, and so wind is often called on by National Grid to vary its output," he said. "So it's actually the best way to keep bills as low as possible."
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