Q3 2018: Headlines

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by Dr Iain Staffell – Imperial College London 

This quarter, Britain’s power system hit a major green milestone that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. 

The installed capacity of renewables has overtaken that of all fossil-fuelled technologies combined. A third of Britain’s coal, gas and oil capacity has retired over the last five years, while the capacity of wind, solar, biomass, hydro and other renewables has tripled (see Article 1). Now standing at a combined 42 GW, renewables now dominate Britain’s electricity generating infrastructure.

The rising costs of gas and carbon emissions have had effects throughout the power sector this quarter. In August, coal replaced gas as the cheapest fuel for generating electricity, sparking fears about carbon emissions from the power sector rising. These cost increases have passed through into the price of electricity, which rose to its highest levels for a decade. The cost of balancing the power system also hit a 10-year high as more weather-driven renewables and fewer flexible gas stations were producing. 

Around August 20th it became cheaper, on average, to generate electricity from coal than from gas for the first time since 2015.  Article 2 explores the impacts of coal being ‘in the money’ once again as gas and carbon become more expensive, and the competing pressures now facing the sector: wanting to contain price rises whilst not reversing the progress seen in decarbonising electricity.

Article 3 looks at the impact that rising costs have had on wholesale electricity prices. Day-ahead prices have risen 50% over the last twelve months to reach a 10-year high. This will spell bad news for consumers if those costs get passed on. 

Continuing the theme of rising prices, Article 4 reveals that the cost of running the transmission networks has also hit a 10-year high. The cost of keeping the system stable has doubled in the last four years, partly due to the increased cost of using gas for balancing actions, but also the increasing share of wind and decreasing share of flexible generation.

Article 5 finishes with statistics on the capacity and production for the quarter. 

The cost of generating electricity from gas relative to coal (top), and the generation mix over the quarter (bottom)

Authors: Dr Iain StaffellProfessor Richard GreenDr Rob GrossDr Malte Jansen, and Professor Tim Green.

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