Greenest electricity grid record smashed on Easter Monday
Image: National Grid ESO.
Apr / 2021
Great Britain’s grid hit the greenest it has ever been on Monday 5 April at 1pm, with carbon intensity dropping to 39gCO2/kWh.
A combination of sunny and blustery weather, together with low demand due to it being Easter Monday, helped renewable energy to dominate the mix, said National Grid ESO.
Wind power made up 39%, solar 21% and nuclear 16% at 1pm, meaning zero carbon sources made up almost 80% of the country’s electricity mix.
This allowed emissions to drop to the lowest figure in history, beating the previous record of 46gCO2/kWh set on May 24 2020.
It followed on from a record breaking 2020, which included the first coal-free Christmas ever in Britain. Throughout the year, renewables broke records with solar power hitting its highest ever level of generation (9.7GW) and during several points in May its highest share in the mix (34%).
Wind generation also smashed a number of records through last year, and its streak has continued into 2021 with highest ever level of wind generation broken on 13 February (17.5GW).
Fintan Slye, director at National Grid Electricity System Operator, said the latest record was an example of the “astonishing rate” the transformation of the grid is moving at, as it continues to “harness the growth of renewable power sources”.
“It’s an exciting time, and the progress we’re seeing with these records underlines the significant strides we’re taking towards our ambition of being able to operate the system carbon free by 2025.
“With COP26 later this year records like this couldn’t come at a better time, showing that progress towards greener grids is possible. We look forward to sharing our learnings at COP26 and continuing to help system operators across the world exploit the potential of renewable power.”
The record breaking year for renewables contributed to keeping coal off the grid for over 5,147 hours in 2020, compared with 3,666 hours in 2019, 1,856 in 2018 and 624 in 2017. This included the longest coal-free period since the industrial revolution in Britain, with almost 68 days without the fossil fuel between April 10 and June 16.
As such, just 1.6% of the electricity mix in 2020 came from coal generation, a dramatic drop compared to almost 25% five years ago. This shift is happening at pace ahead of the ban in 2024, with EDF announcing in March that its West Burton A power station will close in September 2022 leaving just one coal-fired station in the country.
New energy storage deployment topped record 3,500 MWh in 2020, ESA report shows
Energy storage installation grew nearly 200 percent and totaled an all-time operational record in fourth quarter 2020, according to a new report.
The report released by analytics and research firm Wood MacKenzie and the U.S. Energy Storage Association’s latest U.S. Monitor report indicated that about 2,156 MWh of new energy storage was brought online in the last three months of the year. This breaks the previous quarterly record and is 182 percent higher than 2020’s third quarter, according to the report.
Falling prices and fewer barriers to energy storage deployment are credited with helping the quarterly revival. Front-of-meter storage accounted for four of every five MW deployed in the fourth quarter, according to report.
Residential storage totaled about 90 MW and represented 14 percent of the MW total during the period. Much of that growth was driven by homeowner interest in California, the ESA release says.
Overall for the year, nearly 1,500 MW of capacity and 3,500 MWh in new storage was brought online. The capacity total was 179 percent higher than the previous year’s installations.
“2020 is the first year that advanced energy storage deployments surpassed gigawatt scale—a tremendous milestone on the path to our aspiration of 100 GW by 2030,” said Jason Burwen, U.S. Energy Storage Association Interim CEO. “With continuing storage cost declines and growing policy support and regulatory reform in states and the federal government, energy storage is on an accelerating trajectory to enable a resilient, decarbonized, and affordable electric grid for all.”
The U.S. energy storage market is forecast to add five times more storage—or close to 7,000 MW—in 2025, according to the ESA.
Front-of-meter installation could account for up to 85 percent of new MW annually, as utilities deploy large-scale projects to help balance out intermittent renewable energy growth. The U.S. installed 3,115 MWh of storage from 2013-2019, a total which was exceeded in 2020 alone, Wood Mackenzie Head of Energy storage Dan Finn-Foley noted in a statement.
“The data truly speaks for itself,” Finn-Foley said. “This is the hallmark of a market beginning to accelerate exponentially, and momentum will only increase over the coming years.”
The world’s largest utility-scale battery storage system, Moss Landing, was brought online earlier this year in Monterey County, California. The 400 MW/1,600 MWh Moss Landing was developed by Texas-based utility owner Vistra Energy and is backed by long-term contracts with Pacific Gas & Electric.
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Climate change may have driven early human species to extinction
Was Homo erectus driven extinct by climate change?The Natural History Museum/Alamy
Sudden climatic changes may have been a significant driver of the extinction of early human species.
Pasquale Raia at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy and his colleagues have used climate modelling and fossil records to determine the effect climate change had on the survival of the species in our Homo genus.
The researchers used a database of 2754 archaeological records of the remains of several species alive over the past 2.5 million years, including Homo habilis, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.
They cross-referenced these records with a climate emulator, which modelled temperature, rainfall and other weather data over the past 5 million years. The aim was to determine the climatic niche for each species – a range of conditions including temperature and precipitation that are optimal for survival – and how widely distributed the niche area was through time.
The team found that H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis all lost a significant portion of their climatic niche area just before they became extinct.
“Species are good at surviving when they have a large area at their disposal to live in,” says Raia. But when liveable areas decrease and the result is small patches that are geographically isolated from each other, species enter what is known as an extinction vortex.
The reductions in liveable area resulted from sudden climatic changes, the team found. H. erectus, for example, went extinct during the last glacial period, which began about 115,000 years ago. The researchers suggest this was the coldest period the species had ever experienced.
The team found that for the Neanderthals, competition with H. sapiens was also a factor, but that even without the presence of our species the effect of climate change alone may have been enough to lead to extinction. Even species with the ability to control their local environment – such as by wearing clothes or creating fires – were susceptible to the effects of climate change, says Raia.
But gaps in data may compromise the certainty of the conclusion that climate change was the primary extinction driver, say researchers who weren’t involved in the study.
Aside from Neanderthals, there is scarcely any fossil evidence for the other species studied, says Bernard Wood at George Washington University in Washington DC. “Individuals belonging to these taxa lived at times, and in places, not sampled by the existing fossil record,” he says.
“Plus, the first appearance date of a taxon almost certainly underestimates when a taxon appeared, and its last appearance date almost certainly underestimates when a taxon became extinct,” he says.
As species approach extinction, regardless of the cause – whether it be competition, being hunted or breeding problems – their range necessarily declines, says Corey Bradshaw at Flinders University in Australia. If a species’ range was already in decline, that could give the false impression that the climate niche area was also declining, he says.
“No species that we know of has ever gone extinct from a single mechanism. It’s always a combination,” says Bradshaw. “For example, in the case of many megafauna species in the late Pleistocene, it’s coming to light that there were a lot of interaction effects between human hunting and climate change.”
Journal reference: One Earth, DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2020.09.007
Heat pumps ‘critical’ to London’s 2030 net zero target
Image: The Carbon Trust
Heat pumps have a “critical role” to play in London reaching net zero according to a new report from The Carbon Trust.
The report, which was commissioned by the Mayor of London, is designed to help guide local authorities, social housing providers and others considering a heat pump retrofit.
Retrofitting will be of significant importance for London as at least 80% of its buildings are expected to still be standing in 2050, with a need to improve energy efficiency in buildings in order to deploy heat pumps at scale.
The report also stressed the importance of good practice system design, which it said will be “essential” for effective heat pump deployment.
Heat pumps are, however, the “primary technology choice for decarbonising heat in existing buildings” due to their efficiency, with The Carbon Trust stating that this, combined with the ongoing rapid decarbonisation of the grid, means the technology has the potential to deliver CO2 savings of 60-70% compared to conventional electric heating and 55-65% compared to an A-rated gas boiler.
They will also reduce fuel bills compared to conventional electric heating, but they could increase fuel bills compared to gas unless paired with energy efficiency, best practice system design and flexible use of heat.
This is despite the high upfront cost of heat pumps, although the report did continue to say that many building types will require additional up-front financial support.
However, the lifetime financial case for heat pump retrofit is already strong in some building types, according the report, citing examples of electrically heated buildings, buildings with a high cooling demand and buildings that already require major renovations, which are all building types that should be prioritised for heat pump retrofit.
Due to these findings, The Carbon Trust has created an action plan for heat pumps, including the recommendation to re-balance gas and electricity energy taxation to incentivise low carbon heating.
“As always, heat pumps are not a silver bullet solution, which is why we have provided a suite of policy recommendations, including investment in energy efficiency in buildings and flexibility in the energy system,” Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said.
Other recommendations include reducing the upfront capital cost of heat pumps paid by the building owner, maximising the financial rewards for the flexibility of heat demand, catalysing the deployment of heat pumps in buildings where there is already a strong business case for it and rapidly escalating investment in thermal energy efficiency.
“Retrofitting heat pumps and improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings are key to achieving the Mayor’s ambitious target for London to reach net zero carbon by 2030,” Shirley Rodrigues, deputy mayor for environment and energy at the Greater London Authority, said.
“Not only will retrofitting heat pumps help support jobs and skills vital to a green, fair and prosperous COVID-recovery, they also reduce energy bills if designed well. However, delivering this at the scale needed will require the government to step up investment and implement strong supportive policies.”
European solar generation hit ‘all-time high’ in Q2 2020
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Generation from Europe’s solar PV fleet hit an all-time high in Q2 2020, according to analysis compiled by EnAppSys.
Driven by a collapse in power demand associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and ideal weather conditions, European solar generated around 47.6TWh throughout the three months ended 30 June. That figure is a 19% jump on the previous record of 40.6TWh set in Q3 2018.
Those generation figures helped renewables take a 45% share of the total electricity mix, equating to the largest share of any asset class.
And the difference between solar and fossil fuel incumbents could not be starker. While solar reached new heights, fossil fuel generators witnessed their lowest quarterly generation for nearly five years. By comparison, fossil fuels provided just under one-third (31%) of total power in Europe in Q2 2020, while nuclear provided 25%.
At 47.6TWh, European solar’s output in Q2 2020 is nearly 22% greater than the 39.1TWh it produced in Q2 2019 and 18.7% greater than the 40.1TWh it produced in 2018. It is also the highest percentage share of total power generation recorded to date at 7.8%. The closest equivalent share for solar was 6.3% recorded in Q2 last year.
While generation conditions in Europe, as was noted by stakeholders at the time, were favourable for solar, the impact of COVID-19 and associated lockdowns has also been highlighted by EnAppSys.
National lockdown measures, while enforced in March, remained in place for much of Q2, triggering a slump in power demand. The quarterly average power demand in the second quarter fell by 13% from 345GW to 298GW, far greater than any decrease associated with seasonality, EnAppSys said.
“By the end of the quarter, overall demand levels seemed to have stabilised after the initial drop. While demand was generally lower than historical levels, the differences became comparable in magnitude with the range of normal year-to-year variations, and the lockdown effects became less clear,” Jean-Paul Harreman, director at EnAppSys BV, said.
Renewable generation sees ‘largest year-on-year’ increase as it exceeds 40TWh in Q1
The UK’s renewable generation has seen the largest ever year-on-year increase, jumping by 30% in Q1 2020.
Following on from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) publishing its quarterly report, the department has now given in depth figures specifically for renewables.
It found that renewable generation climbed by 9.4TWh from 31.5TWh in Q1 2019 to 40.8TWh in Q1 2020.
Whilst its quarterly report found that capacity increased to 47.4GW, it has now detailed how two thirds of that increased capacity – 1.6GW – came from new offshore wind installations.
It pointed to the completion of the Beatrice expansion, as well as Hornsea One becoming operational in stages and the first stage of East Anglia One coming online, with all three of these being supported by the Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme.
Offshore wind, meanwhile, achieved the highest rate of growth of the renewables at 19%. Energy from waste was close behind at 15%, followed by anaerobic digestion (14%), onshore wind (2.5%), solar PV (1.3%) and plant biomass with an increase of less than 1%.
Despite solar PV increasing in capacity, it saw a decrease in generation by 11% to 1.9TWh. This was a result of a decrease in the number of sunlight hours compared to the “relatively high level” seen in Q1 2019, BEIS said.
Solar PV represented a 28.2% share of all renewable capacity by the end of the quarter, with onshore wind having the highest at 29.8%.
Offshore wind came in third with 21.4%, with bioenergy having 16.6% and hydro 4.0%.
Generation from offshore wind did, however, see a huge boost of 53% to 13.2TWh compared to Q1 2019, with onshore jumping 29% to 12.8TWh.
Overall, renewables generated a record 47% of the UK’s electricity, with the technology having never broken 40% before.
The load factor for all new renewables also hit a milestone, being the highest quarterly load factor since Q1 2014 at 39.5%.
In Q1 2020, onshore wind’s load factor was 41.6% (compared to 33.8% in Q1 2019) and offshore wind’s was 59.7% (compared to 47.8% in Q1 2019), with BEIS saying this increase is due to the average wind speeds, which were the highest since 2008.
Finally, BEIS also provided information on small-scale installations, although unsubsidised installations below 1MW that are not registered with the MCS are not featured in its statistics.
It found there were over 1 million small scale installations at the end of Q1 2020, with a total capacity of 6,712MW.
This accounts for 14% of total renewable capacity, with solar PV representing an “overwhelming majority” of small-scale installations, coming in at 99% as well as a “significant majority” of the small scale capacity at 81%.
61GW renewables and storage pipeline could bring in £125bn to economy
The UK currently has a pipeline of 61GW of renewables and storage that if developed could bring in £125 billion to the UK economy.
This is according to trade association Regen, which released new analysis of the UK’s pipeline. It found that this pipeline could provide 200,000 jobs and could add £125 billion to the value of the UK economy across the entire country.
This comes as many companies and organisations seek to highlight the benefits of a green recovery from COVID-19 to both jobs and the economy, with the IEA finding that worldwide millions of jobs could be saved and the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit finding that tens of thousands of UK jobs could be saved.
The pipeline breaks down into offshore wind scooping up just over half that figure at 31.7GW, with onshore wind (11.9GW), solar PV (8.6GW) and storage (8.5GW) splitting the remaining half.
Regen calculated that 18GW of this pipeline can be deemed “shovel-ready”, using renewable energy planning data to identify the projects ‘awaiting construction’, those that have received planning permission but not begun construction.
It calculated the total pipeline from the registers of ‘accepted to connect’ energy generation assets on the distribution and transmission electricity networks.
To help “unlock” these projects, Regen is calling on the government to implement three key policies that it said would remove barriers. The first of these is to publish the forthcoming energy white paper, which was originally set to be published in summer 2019 but has seen numerous delays.
Secondly, Regen is calling on the government to commit to annual Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions. It was announced in March that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was to consult on opening up the CfD to solar and onshore wind again. Making the auctions yearly would give investors confidence, Regen said.
Its final recommendation is to end what it described as anti-onshore wind policies in the English planning system.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen said that the “dramatic falls” in the cost of renewables and storage means the projects in the UK’s pipeline could be delivered by private sector investment which would enable public investment to be focused on “other green energy policies, such as the Chancellor’s home insulation grant scheme announced yesterday”.
March sees tripling of battery EV sales despite slumping new car market
Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) soared in March 2020 to 11,694 despite a significant drop in sales of new cars overall.
In March, registrations of BEVs almost tripled, accounting for 4.6% of the market, according to new figures released by the SMMT. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales also saw a boost, growing 38% in the month, however they fell short of the numbers BEVs achieved, with 6,818 registrations compared to 11,694.
However, the new car market saw an overall drop in sales of -44.4%, a harsher fall than during the last financial crisis and the worst March since the late nineties, the SMMT said.
203,370 fewer cars were registered than in March 2019, a fall larger attributed to the closure of showrooms in line with government advice to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The reason why BEVs saw a huge spike despite the overall decline is likely to be attributed to several reasons, according to Cornwall Insight’s EV specialist Katie Hickford, one of which is the changes to Benefit in Kind tax which came into effect on 1 April, providing a strong financial incentive for fleet EV purchases.
Another large contributing factor is also likely to be the Tesla Model 3, Hickford said, which is “likely the 9th best-selling car model during March 2020”.
Whilst Tesla is not a member of the SMMT and therefore doesn’t report its data directly, “it is assumed that Tesla, and the Model 3 in particular, comprise the notable majority of the ‘Other’ category”.
“March data also reflects the larger volume of pre-order for the new March number plates. Taken together with the long lead time on many EV purchases, it is likely that April registration data may provide a clearer picture of the impact of COVID-19 on BEV sales,” Hickford continued.
March’s figures come on the back of a string of record-breaking months. January saw sales up 203.9% compared to 2019, with 4,054 BEVs registered during the month compared to 1,334 in the year previously.
The SMMT also announced it has downgraded its interim market outlook for the year to 1.73 million registrations – a -23% decline on the previous outlook made in January.
Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said that the overall decline has come as “no surprise” due to the UK’s lockdown.
“We should not, however, draw long term conclusions from these figures other than this being a stark realisation of what happens when economies grind to a halt.”
Britain hits ‘significant milestone’ as renewables become main power source
Renewables, especially wind, generated 5.4TWh between January and March.
In Q1 2020, renewables became Britain’s main power source for the first time ever, according to new analysis by EnAppSys.
Renewables hit a new milestone, generating 35.4TWh between January and March, more than fossil fuels combined. This also represents a significant increase from Q1 2019, when they produced 27.2TWh.
During this period 44.6% of total generation was produced by renewables, with the rest generated by gas-fired plants (29.1%), nuclear plants (15.3%), power imports (7.3%) and coal plants (3.7%).
This surge in renewable generation was largely due to weather conditions, as there was consistently high winds throughout the period. Output from wind farms was more than 10GW for 63% of the quarter, and more than 5GW for 85% of it.
Storms battered Britain at the beginning of 2020, bringing record breaking winds. Storm Ciara for example set two wind generation records, with wind turbines generating 56% of the country’s electricity at 2am on Saturday 8 February, the most at any one time, and accounting for 44.26% of power produced across the whole day.
The record breaking start to 2020 was aided by a recent drop off in demand, according to EnAppSys, caused by the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. However, as this was only brought in towards the end of the quarter, it is likely to have a larger impact on Q2.
Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, called Q1 a “significant milestone” for Britain’s power industry.
“With weather likely to return to more typical patterns in future quarters, the 45% of electricity generation from renewable sources in the quarter is likely to be a temporary high. However, given recent trends which show that renewables are becoming an increasingly dominant player in Britain’s power mix, the continued build of offshore wind farms and the resurgence in onshore wind should see these levels being achieved more often in the longer term.”
The amount of renewable generation on the system meant that not only was there more generation from renewables than gas, there was more than gas and coal-fired generation combined for a whole quarter. This is another first for the country according to EnAppSys.
In the short term, with reduced demand due to coronavirus, we can expect renewables to provide a significant amount of the country’s energy mix.
However, Verrill added that: “Whilst levels of generation from renewables have been on the rise, Britain’s other clean power source – nuclear – generated its smallest overall volume of generation since Q3 2008, producing 12.2TWh in the quarter as older reactors saw increased levels of downtime as they move towards the end of their operational life.
“Levels of nuclear generation are set to continue to decline as plants close, although this will be offset by increased levels of renewable and gas generation as well as any new nuclear builds.”