Future of Energy

The changing profile of UK energy generation

Posted on 17 June 2020
By Lucy Hearn
Lucy Hearn
Client Portfolio Manager

Lucy is one of 5 client portfolio managers on our award winning Optimisation Desk. The desk provides a route to the wholesale market for our customers as well as risk management services, market updates, technical analysis and the operational side of Demand Side Response products. She has been on the desk for 18 months, having come from an export settlements and environmental certificate management background.

For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the UK has recorded two full months without any coal-fired power contributing to our energy mix (as of 10th June).

Of course, the Covid-19 lockdown has seen national demand reduce, with consumption around 12-13% lower compared to this time last year. 

As a result, National Grid has taken all four of the UK’s coal-fired stations offline.

But overall, the current drop in coal power reflects a trend that’s been emerging since April 2017, when we saw the UK’s first coal-free day since industrialisation.

Phasing out coal by 2025

This reduction has been driven by the UK government becoming the first to commit to phasing out coal-based generation by 2025.

At the start of 2015, there were 13 coal plants operating in the UK. But that number dwindled to just six plants as we entered winter 2019. And it’s now down to four, as two more were mothballed in March 2020.

At the same time, more renewable generation has come online.

Wind and solar doubling

For example, wind generation has doubled over the past few years, peaking at just over 16GW in 2019.

Solar too has increased. Although exact figures are hard to gather, statistics by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) suggest that solar capacity in the UK has more than doubled from 5.5k MW in 2014 to 13.3k MW as of June 2019.

Another key development over the past four years has been the introduction of biomass as a contender in the generation mix.

Biomass expected to rise

As restrictions on CO2 output have become more stringent, alternative fuels have become more financially viable, and hence more popular, with a number of former coal plants being converted to dual-fuel or solely biomass generation.

Generation from biomass is expected to continue to rise as much as 16% by 2032.

Nuclear set to reduce

On the nuclear front, generation levels remain fairly consistent with little seasonal variation. But existing facilities are expected to be phased out by 2035.

Only one new site at Hinkley Point is in development, after projects from Toshiba and Hitachi were recently abandoned.

But there are still plans for other potential new nuclear stations at other sites identified by the government. So further plant may be scheduled to help reinstate capacity as older stations come offline.

Free UK Generation Mix report

If you’d like to read more about changes to UK power, you can request the latest Generation Mix Report from the nBS Optimisation Desk.

This is one of the many market intelligence tools made available to our flexible-purchasing customers via our online portal Risk Navigator.

Non-customers can obtain a free copy by emailing nBS@npower.com.

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