Green is the new black as power capacity shifts from fossil to renewables

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 6 Nov 2018

A major green milestone has been reached on Britain’s electricity grid, as the total capacity available from renewables has overtaken fossil fuels for the first time.

A third of fossil fuel generating capacity has retired over the last five years – while the capacity from wind, solar, biomass, hydro and other renewables has tripled, taking the total renewable capacity available on the system to 42GW.

This means that for the first time renewables have the biggest share of Britain’s electricity generating infrastructure, overtaking the 40.6GW of capacity available from fossil fuels.

Wind farms provide the biggest share of renewable capacity on the system, with more than 20GW available, with Grimsby alone contributing virtually 1.5GW from the offshore arrays operated and maintained from the port.  Race Bank, recently announced it may be doubled, was one of four to come online this year, with three farms in varying stages of construction to take the total to 5GW.

Solar comes in second providing more than 13GW, with biomass third, at 3.2GW.

The statistics come from the latest Drax Electric Insights report, with the power station working with Imperial College London.

It said biomass, imported through Immingham and Hull and fed by train to the regional giant, played an important role in helping to tip the balance from fossil fuels to renewables.

Its fourth unit conversion from coal came as Lynemouth in Northumberland switched, together adding 1GW of capacity in total.

The report also looks at why power prices are at a ten-year high and identifies Brexit as being a major factor. An 18 per cent increase in power costs was caused by the currency devaluation associated with the 2016 referendum result, when the pound fell against the Euro and US Dollar.

Read more: Drax director tells business leaders the North will power the UK for years to come

However, balancing the power system also added six per cent to wholesale prices as the day-to-day costs of running the transmission system came in at £3.8 million per day during the third quarter of 2018.

Dr Iain Staffell, pictured right, lecturer in sustainable energy systems at Imperial, said: “The cost of balancing the system has doubled in the last four years. The amount of flexible generation on the system is a key driver.  Balancing costs rise when the output from flexible generators such as gas, coal, biomass and hydro, falls below 10GW.

“Having a ‘brittle’ power system with limited flexibility will be more expensive to control. More flexible generation, storage and demand-side response will be critical in minimising system costs in the future.”

Andy Koss, Drax Power chief executive, said: “More renewables are crucial for reducing carbon emissions and helping us to meet our climate targets – but flexible, lower carbon generation, is also clearly vital for controlling the costs of maintaining a stable, low carbon power system.

“The IPCC’s report recognised that in order to meet our climate change targets, up to 85 per cent of global power generation needs to come from renewables by 2050. This means the remainder will have to be provided by flexible sources, which can support the system and help to keep costs down – such as biomass, hydro, pumped storage as well as high efficiency gas.”

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