Strong levels of wind generation and increased levels of biomass output contributed to a second successive quarter in which the GB power market saw over half of all power generation come from clean sources.
At the same time the decline of coal, at least in the short-term, continued in the quarter to see gas remain the primary fuel type – in contrast to many countries in Europe where coal remains the main source of power.
These are the key findings from a report released to the market by North East-headquartered energy market monitoring firm EnAppSys.
In the three months to the end of September, gas-fired power stations generated 25TWh of power (down from 27.7TWh in the previous quarter), with this amounting to 37.3% of the total generation in the market. This came as the overall share of generation from fossil fuel sources totalled 40.1% in the quarter.
As gas is a cleaner fuel than coal, the decline in activity at coal-fired power stations in recent years has reduced carbon emissions significantly, with the market having seen around 10GW of plant closures at coal stations in recent years. However, gas prices have been climbing in recent months and this means that while coal-fired plants only accounted for 2.8% of total generation in the quarter, it would not take a major shift for levels of coal output to start climbing once again.
Strong levels of renewable output in the quarter meant that for the second quarter running an estimated 52% of generation came from clean power sources (nuclear or renewable). The 18.8TWh generated by renewables was lower than the previous quarter but more than the 16.9TWh generated by nuclear plants in the market.
Levels of renewable generation continue to be underpinned by strong and consistent levels of wind generation, with wind farms providing 47% of the renewable total in the quarter. This came as several large new wind farms started to come online during the period and windy conditions increased levels of farm utilisation.
Despite growth in levels of solar generation in recent years, the limited hours of output at these projects continues to limit their overall generation impact on the market, even though they provided 17% of the renewable total in Q3 2017. Instead, biomass plants continue to be the second largest contributor to levels of renewable generation in the market at 30% of the renewable output.
Paul Verrill, director at EnAppSys, said: “The market has continued its progression towards increased levels of generation from renewable sources. Strong levels of wind generation this summer boosted the overall contribution of renewables to the GB power mix.
“The last four consecutive quarters have now all seen wind generation as a share of total output exceed 11%, but it is still gas that underpins the wider market, supported by strong levels of nuclear generation.
“Despite this, climbing gas prices mean that coal is not far off from returning as a major fuel type in the UK, having been pushed out by the carbon price support which acts as an increase over the much lower EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) carbon price.
“This is a trend that will be worth monitoring over the coming months, with the start of the Capacity Mechanism also of particular interest in the months ahead.”