Q2 2023: Fossil-fuel output falls by a quarter

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Electricity generation from fossil fuels fell to its lowest levels since the COVID-19 lockdown. Fossil fuels produced 22.2 TWh of electricity over the last three months, just over a third of total electricity demand. This is 9% below the previous non-lockdown low, which was recorded at the start of this year. Electricity generation from fossil fuels also registered its largest year-on-year fall outside of COVID times. Output from gas power stations fell by 23% compared to Quarter 2 of 2022, and output from coal fell by three-quarters to its lowest levels on record.

This fall could have been much larger, but three factors propped up our need to burn gas. Nuclear output was a fifth lower than last year due to ongoing maintenance and refuelling. Half of the country’s 10 reactor units are currently offline. Biomass generation also declined by a fifth as unprecedented wood pellet prices made many units unprofitable to run. Even Briain’s wind farms produced 16% less output than the same quarter last year due to lower wind speeds. If these three technologies had maintained their output at last year’s levels, fossil fuel production would have been a further 6 TWh lower.

Despite these factors, fossil fuel generation still continued to decline. Demand for electricity maintained its downward trend – falling 3.2% over the last 12 months. However, the key driver for declining fossil fuel use was the reversal of fortunes on the continent, leading to a reversal of flows across the interconnectors. With gas stores replenished and some of France’s nuclear fleet coming back online, Britain’s neighbouring countries were less short on power. Since last year, Britain has changed from exporting 1.7 GW to importing 3.4 GW – a swing of over 5 GW, equivalent to one-and-a-half Hinkley Point C’s.

Carbon emissions from electricity production fell to below 10 million tonnes of CO2 over the quarter for only the second time ever (the previous being during COVID lockdown). The carbon intensity of generation fell by a fifth from Q2 last year to 155 g per kWh.

With the country now down to just one coal power plant, the end of coal is in sight. The roll out of wind and solar, and whether a nuclear renaissance emerges will play a large role in determining whether and how fast natural gas generation continues to decline in the coming years.

Left: Electricity generated from fossil fuels in Britain during each quarter since 2010
Right: Year-on-year change in electricity generated from fossil fuels in Britain during each quarter since 2010

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