Britain goes full month with coal-free electricity for first time

According to the National Grid, the country’s sunniest spring on record helped to generate enough solar power to reduce carbon intensity to its lowest level ever recorded.

May was Great Britain’s “greenest” ever month as it went without coal-fired electricity for a full calendar month.

National Grid’s energy system operator (ESO), said the sunny weather helped generate record high levels of electricity though wind and solar power.  

The Met Office said this year’s spring was the sunniest since records began in 1929, with more than 573 hours of sunshine recorded between March 1 and May 27. The previous record was 555.3 hours.

Renewable sources made up about 28% of Britain’s electricity last month, just behind gas-fired power generation, which made up 30% of the energy mix. 

The record low demand for electricity during the coronavirus lockdown has put Great Britain’s last remaining coal power plants in jeopardy.

Since April, Great Britain’s electricity system has run without coal-fired power for about 54 consecutive days, which has helped the carbon intensity of the electricity grid fall to the lowest average carbon intensity on record at 143 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

Sunday 24 May saw the lowest carbon intensity ever recorded at 46 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

The collapse of energy demand is deemed to have been caused by the coronavirus lockdown and the two May bank holidays.

Roisin Quinn, head of National Grid’s control centre said: “Great Britain’s incredible coal-free run has continued throughout May, giving us the first full calendar month – 744 straight hours – of electricity generation without coal since the Industrial Revolution.”

This news shows encouraging signs, not least because five years ago coal usage was at 5.04% but it also seems plausible that the government could achieve its target of phasing out the UK’s last coal-fired plants by 2025.

Quinn added that despite the good news, the combination of record low demand for electricity and near-record highs for renewable energy output is a “unique challenge” for the National Grid’s control room, as engineers had to make sure that the rise of renewable energy did not overload the grid.

National Grid’s energy system operator expects to spend £500m more than usual this summer as it needs to pay generators to turn off their wind farms, solar projects or power plants.

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