Ben HaywardJune 2nd
2020

The UK’s electricity grid has recorded its ‘greenest’ ever month after running completely coal-free for the entirety of May.

The National Grid, has said that the UK’s ‘sunniest spring on record' meant that sufficient solar power had been generated to reduce the carbon intensity of the system to the lowest level on record. 

For May, wind and solar power contributed 28% of the UK’s electricity last month, just behind gas-fired power generation, which made up 30%.

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Alongdside the weather conditions, the record low demand for electricity as thousands of businesses were forced to close down due to cocornavirus has left little room for the UK’s last remaining coal power plants to play a role, reports the Guardian. 

Since April, the UK’s electricity system has run without coal-fired power for about 54 consecutive days, helping the carbon intensity of the electricity grid fall to its lowest average on record at 143 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, with the lowest carbon intensity ever recorded (just 46g CO2/kWh!) Occurring on Sunday May 24th.

As well as a surge in the use of renewables, the lockdown has also had other knock on effects for the environment including a dramatic drop in the levels of air pollution in the UK and thriving bee populations.

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Contributing factors included the aforementioned collapse in energy demand and two bank holidays in a fortnight, but the main reason was the unseasonably sunny spring weather, said Roisin Quinn, head of National Grid’s control centre.

Spring 2020 was officially the sunniest the UK has seen since records began in 1929. According to the Met Office, we had more than 573 hours of sunshine between March 1st and May 27th, beating the previous record of 555.3 hours in 1948.

On top of that we also experienced the driest May we’ve seen in the UK for 124 years!

Ms Quinn said: “Great Britain’s incredible coal-free run has continued throughout May, giving us the first full calendar month – 744 straight hours – of electricity generation without coal since the Industrial Revolution.”

She added that the combination of the record low demand for electricity and near-record highs for renewable energy output poses a ‘unique challenge’ for the National Grid’s control room, as engineers had to ensure that the rise of renewable energy did not overload the grid.

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In fact, the National Grid’s energy system operator arm is currently expecting to spend £500m more than usual this summer because it will need to pay generators to turn off their wind farms, solar projects or power plants.

Over the last bank holiday weekend alone it reportedly paid £50m to electricity generators to turn down their supplies, on top of a £50m contract offered to the Sizewell B nuclear plant to run at half capacity this summer.

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