Grant Wilson, College of Sheffield and Iain Staffell, Imperial Faculty London
Simply six years in the past, greater than 40% of Britain’s electrical energy was generated by burning coal. Immediately, that determine is simply 7%. But if the story of 2016 was the dramatic demise of coal and its alternative by pure gasoline, then 2017 was most undoubtedly concerning the development of wind energy.
Wind supplied 15% of electrical energy in Britain final yr (Northern Eire shares an electrical energy system with the Republic and is calculated individually), up from 10% in 2016. This enhance, a results of each extra wind farms coming on-line and a windier yr, helped additional scale back coal use and in addition put a cease to the rise in pure gasoline technology.
In October 2017, the mix of wind, photo voltaic and hydro generated 1 / 4 of Britain’s electrical energy over the complete month, a brand new file helped by ex-hurricane Ophelia and storm Brian.
Since that file month, massive new offshore wind farms have began to return on-line. Dudgeon started producing off the Norfolk coast, as did Rampion, which might be seen from Brighton city centre.
In all, Britain’s wind output elevated by 14 terawatt hours between 2016 and 2017 – sufficient to energy four.5m properties. To provide a way of scale, this enhance alone is greater than the anticipated annual output from one of many two new nuclear reactors being constructed at Hinkley Level C.
Not solely is offshore wind rising quick, it is usually getting less expensive. When the newest spherical of presidency auctions for low-carbon electrical energy have been awarded final yr, two of the profitable bids from offshore wind builders had a “strike value” of £57.50 per megawatt hour (MWh). That is significantly cheaper than the equal contract for Hinkley Level of £92.50/MWh (in 2012 costs).
Though these wind farms gained’t be constructed for one more 5 years, this places aggressive stress on different types of low-carbon electrical energy. If there’s to be a nuclear renaissance, or if fossil fuels with carbon seize and storage are to turn into a actuality, these industries should regulate to the brand new financial actuality of renewable vitality.
Britain is utilizing much less electrical energy
General demand for electrical energy additionally continued its 12-year downward development. Extra of the electrical energy “embedded” within the services used within the UK is now imported somewhat than produced at residence, and vitality effectivity measures imply the nation can do extra with much less. This meant Britain in 2017 used about as a lot electrical energy because it did method again in 1987 – regardless of the appreciable inhabitants development.
Sooner or later this development will reverse although, as electrical automobiles and warmth pumps turn into extra frequent and electrical energy partly replaces liquid fuels for transport and pure gasoline for heating respectively. One main problem this brings is how one can accommodate better seasonal and each day variation within the electrical energy system, with out resorting to the advantages of fossil fuels, which might be fairly cheaply saved till required.
Electrical energy generated in Britain is now the cleanest it’s ever been. Coal and pure gasoline collectively produced lower than half of the whole generated. Britain’s electrical energy was fully “coal free” for 613 hours final yr, up from 200 hours in 2016. This place can be wholly unthinkable in lots of international locations together with Germany, India, China and the US, which nonetheless rely closely on coal technology all year long.
Nevertheless, the low stage of coal technology over 2017 masks its continued significance in offering capability throughout hours of peak demand. Through the prime 10% hours of highest electrical demand, coal supplied a sixth of Britain’s electrical energy. When it issues most, coal is relied on greater than nuclear, and greater than the mixed output from wind + photo voltaic + hydro. Further vitality storage might assist wind and photo voltaic meet extra of this peak demand with better certainty.
Wanting ahead to 2018, we’d be stunned if wind technology dropped a lot from its present ranges. Final yr wasn’t even significantly windy in comparison with the longer-term common, and extra capability will likely be coming on-line. Equally, it will be stunning if photo voltaic and hydro mixed produced considerably lower than they did final yr.
It’s due to this fact inevitable that one other vital milestone will likely be reached this yr. Sooner or later, for a number of hours, wind, photo voltaic and hydro will collectively, for the primary time, present greater than half of Britain’s electrical energy technology. This goes to point out simply how a lot a significant energy system might be reworked inside a decade.
The info used on this article relies on the Vitality Charts and Electrical Insights web sites, which permit readers to visualise and discover information on technology and consumption from Elexon and Nationwide Grid. Information from different analyses (akin to BEIS or DUKES) will differ as a consequence of their methodology, significantly by together with mixed warmth and energy, and different on-site technology which isn’t monitored by Nationwide Grid and Elexon. Our estimated carbon emissions are based mostly on Iain Staffell’s analysis revealed in Vitality Coverage, and account for international emissions as a consequence of electrical energy imports and biomass gas processing.
Grant Wilson, Instructing and Analysis Fellow, Chemical and Organic Engineering, College of Sheffield and Iain Staffell, Lecturer in Sustainable Vitality, Imperial Faculty London
This text was initially revealed on The Dialog. Learn the unique article.