UK’s power backbone will run carbon-clean “for periods” by 2025, National Grid hints


Carbon-free operation of Britain’s power backbone for ‘periods at a time’ can happen as early as 2025, National Grid ESO has indicated.

A decade later comes the Grid’s deadline for sustained, exclusively fossil-free operation.  2035 is the destination set down in the UK’s sixth carbon budget, provided under statute by climate science advisors the UK Committee on Climate Change.

As the NG-ESO now plots its route towards that goal, this week the transmission operator reports significant milestones en route.

Over 2019, carbon-free electricity outstripped power from fossil fuels for the first time

Last year for 68 days, coal provided no electricity on the grid, its longest absence since for almost two centuries   On a Saturday early last summer, 23 May 2020, the electricity market provided 83% carbon-free power, a grid record.

Totally fossil-free operation that day was stymied only by the NG-ESO’s need to provide sufficient inertia, underpinning vital system stability.  The operator was compelled at points over those twenty-four hours to reject quantities offered of wind and hydro power, replacing them with CCG gas and biomass.

On Easter Monday this year, the grid’s carbon intensity dropped to 39 grammes of CO2 per kWh, another record.

Grid parity, on the way to grid purity

Grid scale storage in Britain continues to ride an investment boom. It’s needed; against only 2GW of batteries working now, plus 5 GW more on the drawing board, the ESO reckons 40GW is needed by 2030.

Even with relatively small quantities of batteries now plugged in, still National Grid ESO technicians are learning how to balance Britain’s power. Early  2021 was challenging; cold weather and low winds led to the grid relying more on gas and coal than usual. Power fees for the day ahead market and the Balancing Mechanism rocketed upwards.

Fintan Slye, the body’s executive director commented, “Our engineers are deploying innovative, world’s first approaches to transform how the power system operates, such as removing the need to draw on fossil fuel based generation for critical stabilizing properties”.

“There’s still plenty of hard work ahead but it’s an exciting time and getting to this position has been a huge team effort from everyone across the entire energy industry.”

The UK is “leading the world in cleaning up our energy system”, energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan declared.  The National Grid ESO’s new report shows that Britain is “on the cusp of achieving periods of 100% zero carbon electricity generation with no fossil fuels used”.


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