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Britain becomes a net importer of power in Q1

ByJez Davison

Apr 21, 2023
energy 2

Britain returned to a position of being a net importer of power during the first three months of this year.

This was the standout highlight from a new report on the GB Q1 2023 electricity market from Teesside-headquartered energy data analyst EnAppSys.

High volumes of imports from France and Norway were largely responsible for Britain once again becoming a net importer of electricity, after predominantly exporting during Q3 and Q4 last year during a period of French nuclear outages and a European drought. Britain imported 7.25TWh of power from the continent during Q1 of this year, which accounted for 9.7% of the total generation mix.

Mild weather during the first quarter of this year led to lower demand for power which, along with high volumes of wind generation (24TWh across the quarter), meant that conventional generation occupied a smaller share of the fuel mix than in any other Q1 on record. Gas-fired and coal-fired output had a combined share of 32.7% of total GB generation, while gas storage stocks remained at high levels throughout the quarter.

Although wind was the primary source of renewables generation in Q1 2023, other sources of renewable generation were relatively low, with solar generation (1.69TWh) lower than in any first quarter since Q1 2021 and nuclear output (9.21TWh) dropping below 10TWh for the first time. Hydro generation (1.84TWh) equalled levels seen in Q1 2022 and was marginally higher than in Q1 2021.

Renewables generation (wind, biomass, solar and hydro) was the largest contributor to the GB power generation mix during the quarter, accounting for 45.1% of total output. Gas-fired generation made up 31.5% of the total, with nuclear (12.4%), imports (9.7%) and coal (1.2%) accounting for the rest.

Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys – which is part of the Montel Group – said: “Following a period in which GB had been a net exporter of power during Q2, Q3 and Q4 of 2022, it returned to a position of being a net importer during Q1 2023. Historically, it has been usual for GB to import more power through its interconnectors than it exports in any given quarter, but the extreme market conditions of 2022 resulted in a flip in GB’s position. However, in the latest quarter, power imports into GB were higher than in any quarter since Q3 2021, with the largest import volumes of 2.92GWh and 2.30GWh coming from France and Norway respectively.

“At the beginning of the quarter, nuclear availability in the French system was expected to increase to 50GW by the middle of Q1. However, the schedule was repeatedly pushed back due to a variety of factors, including the requirement for further repairs and maintenance following the appearance of stress corrosion cracking in some reactors last year, and strikes at EDF that prompted mass walkouts of employees from nuclear power stations. Nuclear availability peaked for the quarter at around 46GW in early February, but declined to lower than 38GW for much of March.

“With the generally mild weather keeping conventional generation in GB relatively low in Q1, levels of gas storage were high, both in GB and the rest of Europe. NBP gas prices declined across the quarter, dropping from £59/MWh at the beginning of January to £39/MWh by the end of March. The average gas price over the quarter was £46/MWh, the lowest for any quarter since Q2 2022 – which itself had been notably low given the prevailing market conditions reflecting intervals of excess gas supply during periods of low electricity demand and high wind.”

Another notable feature in Q1 was National Grid ESO’s implementation of additional measures in the system to ensure security of supply. These were the Demand Flexibility Service (DFS) and the Winter Contingency Contracts for several coal units.

Both measures were activated infrequently. The DFS was activated on two days in late January, while West Burton 1 and 2 were utilised for several hours on March 7 under their Winter Contingency Contracts, each reaching a peak output of 250MW. System imbalance prices peaked at £1,950/MWh at 18:00 that day, the highest system price seen in GB since January 2022.