Q2 2020: Headlines

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by Dr Iain Staffell – Imperial College London 

Electricity under lockdown: cheaper, cleaner, but harder to control. 

April, May and June saw daily life heavily restricted for most of the Great British public. Millions of people were furloughed or working from home, with shops shuttered up and down the country. This complete reworking of society continued to have unprecedented impacts on the power system (see right).

It has been said that COVID is giving the energy sector a glimpse at its future.Reduced mobility shows how mass uptake of EVs may rock the oil industry. The slump in oil demand butted up against brittle and inflexible producers to force oil prices negative for the first time in history. Similarly, lower electricity demand combined with exceptional weather to propel renewables to their greatest ever share of electricity, forcing down prices, emissions and the need for nuclear and fossil fuels.

The spot-market value of Britain’s electricity halved over the last 12 months, as demand remained depressed and wholesale prices hit their lowest in a decade.

Britain’s electricity over the last quarter was also the cleanest it has ever been. Carbon emissions were one third lower than this time last year, and the carbon intensity of electricity fell to an all-time low of 21 g/kWh on the Spring Bank Holiday. May was also the first ever month when absolutely no electricity was generated from coal. The longest zero-coal run was smashed, lasting for 67 days straight.

For the first time, Britain’s solar panels supplied more than 10% of Britain’s electricity demand over the month of May. Lower demand combined with higher renewable generation meant National Grid ESO had to spend more than ever on keeping the system stable. Balancing prices have shot up from being just 5% of wholesale prices to 20%.

Changes seen in Britain’s power system over the last 12 months

Live Grid Data