Air QualityClean GrowthEnergy storageEnvironment & ClimateFossil FuelsRenewable energy

UK National Grid records ‘greenest’ ever energy usage. How are renewables supporting the decarbonisation of the grid?

By April 7, 2021 No Comments

We are constantly seeking clean & more sustainable ways of generating energy beyond the traditional methods used in coal & fossil fuel production.

Solar & wind energy accounts for approximately 30-50% of the UK’s energy supplies. However, with ‘Zero emissions’ being at the forefront of the Government policies & the drive to decarbonise the national grid by 2030; the race is on to ensure constant energy supply, while adhering to the global emissions standards.

Recently Dolphin N2 attended the Highview Power webinar ‘Powering the New Green Revolution’ where the use of renewables was discussed & explored in relation to the Highview power CRYOBattery & liquid air energy storage.

The rollout of the Highview Power CRYOBattery ensures that there is long duration energy storage available, whilst also being part of the mix which is decarbonising the grid. (1)

The Highview Power CRYOBattery, is a 100% renewable energy storage solution, with each CRYOBattery have a reported 30 year life span. (1)

The CRYOBattery Liquid Air Technology allows the cryogenic storage of liquid air at -196°C (-320˚F) to be stored in insulated, low pressure vessels. Exposure to ambient temperatures causes rapid re-gasification and a 700-fold expansion in volume, which is then used to drive a turbine and create electricity without combustion. (1)

With the costs of renewables seeming to drop year on year, recent reports have seen that the drop has been underestimated by the UK Government & renewables costs are considerably lower than first reported.

The new estimates of the “levelised cost” of electricity, published this week by BEIS, report that renewables are much cheaper than expected in the previous iteration of the report, published in 2016. (2)

The previously published version had already reduced the cost of wind & solar by up to 30% meaning that electricity from onshore wind or solar could be supplied in 2025 at half the cost of gas-fired power. (2)

In 2013, the UK government estimated that an offshore windfarm opening in 2025 could generate electricity for £140/MWh. By 2016, this was revised down by 24%, to £107/MWh. The latest estimate puts the cost at just £57/MWh, another 47% reduction (leftmost red column, below). (2)

The latest estimates include similar dramatic reductions for onshore wind & solar, with levelised costs in 2025 now thought to be some 50% lower than expected by the 2013 government report. (2)

Despite this promising news, there are still those who do not support renewables from onshore & offshore wind & solar, with critics querying the stability & sustainability of this energy source; namely, what happens when the wind stops blowing & the sun goes in? In addition, the ability to store this energy poses its own dilemmas, as by its very nature, it can only be produced sporadically.

However, a recent report from the ESO (The National Grid Electricity System Operator) does show how renewables can dramatically reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, when the conditions are right.

The ESO have reported that at lunchtime on Easter Monday (UK) the electricity grid was the ‘greenest’ it has ever reported.

The carbon intensity of electricity – the measure of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity consumed – dropped to 39 gCO2, the lowest figure in history. (3)

Sunny spells and blustery conditions, coupled with low demand driven by the Easter holiday, meant renewable sources of power dominated the energy mix over the holiday weekend. (3)

At 1pm (05.04.2021) wind power made up 39% of the electricity mix, solar power 21%, and nuclear 16% – meaning zero carbon power sources made up almost 80% of the nation’s power. (3)

The previous record of 46 gCO2/kWh was set on May 24 2020 – part of what was a record-breaking year for GB electricity. (3)

However, despite this astonishingly positive view of how the renewables mix is adding considerably to the decarbonisation of the National grid; the ESO reported that by Tuesday 6th April (2021) 24.8% of Britain’s energy came from fossil fuels, most of which was gas (combined cycle), while 45.2% was renewable energy sources. (4)

The ESO has seen a steady reduction in the reliance of fossil fuels over the past few years & during spring 2020 the UK saw its longest run since the industrial revolution generating electricity without using coal, stretching almost 68 days (1,630 hours) between April 10 and June 16. (3)

In total the UK was powered coal-free for over 5,147 hours in 2020, compared with 3,666 hours in 2019, 1,856 in 2018 & 624 in 2017. Coal generated only 1.6% of the electricity mix in 2020, compared with almost 25% five years ago. (3)

The record for the highest ever level of wind generation was broken on 13th February 2021 (17.5GW) – while August 26 last year saw wind contributing its highest ever share to the electricity mix (59.9%). (3)

Regardless of the fluctuations in UK energy usages, the fact that we are seeing such a drop in the use of fossil fuels & more & more of a reliance on renewable energy sources, can only be a good thing. As the UK get’s ready to host COP26 this coming November, this news could not come at a better time & can showcase how the UK is striving for net zero & decarbonisation of the grid.

Written & cited by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2