Heat wave brings end to latest coal-free power run

The latest stretch of coal-free power on the UK grid came to a close yesterday, as the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottinghamshire came online to help meet peak power demand.

The move brought the latest coal-free run to an end at 55 days, falling short of the 67 day record set earlier this year.

The initial record run came to an end when Drax fired up some of its coal units for testing following maintenance work, and the latest run was forced to end in similarly unlikely circumstances, as the record-breaking heatwave led to reduced generation from gas power plants.

High air temperatures can lead to reduced output from gas power plants as it requires more energy to compress hot humid air for use in power plant turbines. At the same time the hot, still weather conditions have led to low output from the UK’s wind farms while a number of gas plants are currently offline for routine summer maintenance work.

As such, the grid operator was forced to turn to coal power to help meet power demand for the first time in months.

Writing on Twitter, National Grid confirmed the move “brings to an end the coal free run, but Britain has operated for almost 3,300 hours without coal so far in 2020 – over 60 per cent of the year”.

The UK is set to fully phase out coal power from the grid by 2024 at the latest and the confluence of circumstances that led to the use of coal power this week will lead to further calls for the government to accelerate the roll out of flexible grid technologies that can help better manage supply and demand, especially at times when renewables output is relatively low.

Writing on Twitter, energy analyst Nigel Cornwall said it was “pretty evident” more flexibility on the grid was needed “when coal is brought on on a hot summer’s day and Sizewell and Torness [nuclear plants] are being paid to stay off the system”.

Earlier this week the National Infrastructure Commission published a new review of renewables costs, which concluded that plummeting costs meant the government should up its target for renewables’ share of the grid in 2030 from 50 per cent to 65 per cent. But it also stressed that increased investment in new renewables capacity should come alongside a surge in development of smart grid and energy storage technologies.

The UK’s emerging flexible grid services market is expanding rapidly and this week alone has seen a number of further steps forward.

On Monday, network operator Electricity North West announced plans to invest £25m over the next three years to create vital new capacity so the region can shift from using fossil fuels to electricity for everything from transport to heating.

The investment will enable eight new projects located across the region, which are part of the network operator’s Leading the North West to Zero Carbon plan, a £64m scheme announced last year to pave the way for a smooth transition to a low-carbon future.

“Through economic growth and the adoption of low-carbon technologies, the demand for electricity is starting to rise and will gather pace rapidly in the years to come,” said Peter Emery, chief executive of Electricity North West. “The investments we’re making in places like Manchester right now are to ensure the network has enough capacity for the first steps of that transformation, and will guarantee that the major new facilities already being built will have all the power they need to drive growth.”

Meanwhile, flexible grid services operator Kiwi Power this week announced it has commissioned the final 5MW of battery storage capacity at South Somerset District Council’s (SSDC) site at Fideoak Mill in Taunton, making it the largest council-owned energy storage project in the UK.

The additional £2.5m investment brings the site’s total capacity to 30MW, allowing it provide enhanced grid balancing services to National Grid.

“Councils across the UK are seeking to make the most out of their sustainability and carbon emissions investments as they seek to meet increasingly stringent targets,” said Thomas Jennings, head of optimisation at Kiwi Power. “Landmark projects such as Fideoak are vital for demonstrating how investments in battery storage and renewables are value adding and income generating.”

Source : Businessgreen.com

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