King coal still reigns despite rise of renewable energy in the UK

Teesside data analyst EnAppSys says coal-fired power provided the major share of UK energy production this winter

Paul Verrill of EnAppSys
Paul Verrill of EnAppSys

Coal-fired power provided the major share of UK energy production this winter, according to a new report by Teesside data analyst EnAppSys.

The Yarm-based company said energy generated by coal provided 34% of all UK power requirements during the six months to the end of March 2014.

However, while the make-up of the UK energy mix was dominated by coal, total electricity generation at major British power stations fell 6.2% to 36.9 gigawatts (GW) during the period. This was attributed to a mild winter and a long-term decline in electricity consumption driven primarily by the economic slowdown and increased levels of energy efficiency.

The study highlighted several interesting trends, including the decline of the main sources of power - coal and gas - and the increasing importance of renewable energy to the UK.

Despite providing 57% of UK power during the period, coal and gas plants saw levels of combined generation fall 17% on the same six months in 2012-13. The decline was attributed to a 4.2GW fall in coal-fired capacity and rising levels of renewable generation, which reduced the need for gas-fired power during the period.

The EnAppSys study showed that coal-fired power stations provided 34% of all UK power requirements during winter 2013-14, while 23% came from combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) units. Nuclear units provided a further 21%, wind farms 10% and other sources, including interconnector flows to the UK, provided the remaining 15%.

Paul Verrill, Director of EnAppSys, said: “The report shows that the UK’s electricity needs are still predominantly provided by coal and gas-fired power stations, but that renewables are playing an increasingly larger role. In the winter period, when demand in the UK is at its peak, 18% of total UK generation came from renewable sources (including estimates for levels of embedded generation), a big increase on the 11% figure the previous year.

“We are also seeing increased levels of interconnector flows into Britain from the continent. This has resulted in much lower levels of utilisation levels at gas plants, but has increased the levels of diversity in the UK fuel mix.”

Levels of gas-fired generation would have been expected to be much higher in winter 2013-14 given the closure of several coal plants but a 58% rise in wind generation coupled with increased levels of imports and reduced levels of system demand offset these closures.

These strong levels of wind generation were attributed to an increase in the number of wind turbine installations and a higher utilisation of existing units, with several offshore wind farms coming online in the period.

Mr Verrill said: “What we have seen in winter 2013-14 has been a diverse fuel mix with generation from a variety of sources and technologies, with wind now being a major source of power generation in winter months illustrating that it makes a useful contribution in periods of peak demand.

“Going forwards it is important that we retain a diverse fuel mix so that we are not exposed to any vulnerabilities in a particular fuel type, be it a fuel supply crisis or a day in which levels of renewable generation are low.”

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