Testing at Drax power plant delivered coal power to the grid last night, as UK passes latest smart grid milestones
The UK's latest record-breaking run without coal power ended last night at 67 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes, bringing to a close the longest period the UK has operated without coal power since the Industrial Revolution.
Coal power only came back online because energy firm Drax is currently undertaking a series of tests on its coal units following maintenance work in recent months.
As such, the UK grid is set to swiftly return to coal-free operation and is likely to source negligible amounts of coal power for the rest of the summer.
"Essential maintenance has been carried out on one of our coal generating units as is usual during the spring and summer months when demand is lower, and the coal units are not required to run," a Drax spokesperson explained. "Following the completion of this work we need to make sure the unit is performing well, ready for the winter when demand for power increases and the coal units are expected to run. As a result, tests are being carried out now which require the unit to generate power."
The company added that it is set to halt coal generation completely from March next year with the closure of its last coal units in support of its plans to combine biomass power generation with carbon capture and storage systems.
Grid operators confirmed the 67 day record represented the longest run without coal power since 1882.
Throughout the period clean power sources dominated the grid, with gas meeting only 32 per cent of demand and imports providing 11 per cent of UK power. Meanwhile, nuclear commanded a 21 per cent share of the grid with wind delivering 16 per cent, biomass and solar nine per cent each and large hydro projects one per cent.
The record run was assisted by lower than expected energy demand for the time of year as a result of the coronavirus lockdown conditions. However, the UK has consistently operated with negligible amounts of coal power over the summer months in recent years as renewables output has boomed and smart grid technologies have helped maintain grid stability.
The government has set a target to close the UK's last coal power plants by 2024, while National Grid has said it is aiming to operate the grid without any fossil fuels from 2025 onwards when weather conditions allow.
These two goals were given a further boost this week, as the fast-expanding flexible grid market chalked off a major milestone and National Grid announced it has secured a landmark green loan in support of its interconnector plans.
The grid operator confirmed it has agreed the first ever multi export credit agency (ECA) covered green loan for the €2bn Viking Link interconnector project it is developing alongside Danish operator system operator Energinet.
The $743m ECA-backed financing package is made up of $488m from SACE Export Credit and $255m from Euler Hermes Export Credit, and was structured under National Grid's Green Financing Framework. The deal marks the first time multiple ECAs have come together to finance a green project of this size.
The loan represents a step forward for plans to install a 1,400MW subsea cable between the UK and Denmark capable of supplying renewable energy to 1.4 million households. The link is scheduled to come online in 2023, helping to bolster energy security and reduce emissions for both countries.
"Britain's energy system is in the midst of a rapid and complex transformation," said Katerina Tsirimpa, head of corporate finance for National Grid. "We know we have a critical role in the acceleration towards a cleaner future. This green loan represents another important contribution towards our net zero commitment and it reinforces our strong leadership position in the path to a greener energy landscape."
Meanwhile, UK Power Networks yesterday announced the results of its biggest ever flexibility tender, confirming it has awarded contracts for 123MW of flexible power.
The latest round of contracts, worth £14m, include the world's first ever agreements to provide flexibility on a low voltage electricity network.
Flexible grid markets see demand response schemes and energy storage projects bid to provide balancing services to grid operators that can help them manage peaks and troughs in demand and supply that become more frequent as grids become more reliant on variable renewable power sources.
Sotiris Georgiopoulos, head of smart grid development at UK Power Networks, said the latest tender round demonstrated the energy industry's growing interest in the fast-expanding market.
"Three years ago we set out our Flexibility Roadmap and hitting more than 100MW is an important milestone that shows the market is really gathering pace," he said. "We could not have reached this without working really closely with the industry to co-design the products we're offering and make the market open, transparent and accessible.
"Flexibility is the future because it is arguably the single most important element of a decarbonised smart electricity network. It gives us the flexibility we need to enable more renewable energy and forms a crucial element of the journey towards net zero."
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