Q1 2020: Headlines

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by Dr Iain Staffell – Imperial College London

2020 has got off to a pretty poor start. 

Britain was battered by storms throughout January and February. Unprecedented rainfall flooded thousands of homes, but the accompanying gales sent wind power to new records.

Then in March, the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the UK. Social distancing was followed by a full lockdown. Businesses closed and people stayed home, sending electricity demand down to levels not seen since the 1980s, and power prices to a 12-year low. Day-ahead prices averaged just £28/MWh during March, a fall of one-third over the last year.

Britain moved ever closer to a complete phase-out of coal power. Two coal plants retired at the end of the quarter as they were no longer profitable. Before shutting, they burnt through their remaining stockpiles of fuel, running continuously for 117 days over winter. National output from coal over the quarter was up for the first time in eight years.

With record wind output and depressed demand, electricity generation from fossil fuels was down 25% on this quarter last year, the largest fall on record. This also gave one of the lowest quarterly carbon intensities on record. With an average of 173 g/kWh, emissions were down 20% on this time last year.

The electricity generation mix (top) and day-ahead power price (bottom), illustrating the major events over the last quarter

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