Renewables generated more electricity than any other main power source in the first three months of the year – the first time this landmark event has occurred.
A new report by energy market data analyst EnAppSys showed that renewables generated 35.4TWh of power during the quarter, amounting to 44.6% of total generation and significantly higher than the 27.2TWh produced in the first three months of 2019.
The rise in renewables output in the latest quarter was attributed to extreme weather conditions, which contributed to a consistently high level of wind generation. Power output from wind farms exceeded 10GW for 63% of the quarter and 5GW for 85% of the period.
At the same time, the end of the quarter saw a notable drop-off in demand as the country moved into lockdown due to the Coronavirus. This meant that not only did renewables exceed levels of gas or coal-fired generation for a whole quarter for the first time, they also exceeded levels of total fossil fuel generation (i.e. gas and coal) by 36%.
Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, said: “This represents a significant milestone for Britain’s power industry. Whilst the ‘stay at home’ measures reduced demand in the last weeks of March, which increased the contribution of renewables, wind farms generated significantly more power than gas-fired plants, which historically have been the dominant fuel type for electricity generation in Great Britain for some years now.
“With weather likely to return to more typical patterns in future quarters, the 45% of electricity generation from renewable sources in the quarter is likely to be a temporary high. However, given recent trends which show that renewables are becoming an increasingly dominant player in Britain’s power mix, the continued build of offshore wind farms and the resurgence in onshore wind should see these levels being achieved more often in the longer term.
“In the shorter term, as coronavirus measures continue, reduced electricity demand will lead to renewables providing a significant contribution to the GB energy mix.
“Whilst levels of generation from renewables have been on the rise, Britain’s other clean power source – nuclear – generated its smallest overall volume of generation since Q3 2008, producing 12.2TWh in the quarter as older reactors saw increased levels of downtime as they move towards the end of their operational life. Levels of nuclear generation are set to continue to decline as plants close, although this will be offset by increased levels of renewable and gas generation as well as any new nuclear builds.”
The first quarter of the year generally saw low prices and typical demand levels, except towards the end of the quarter when the impacts of the Coronavirus lockdown started to take effect. This period also saw a continued decline in prices, and this will be expected to continue in the second quarter as the impact of reduced economic activity hits home. System balancing prices saw an extreme peak at £2,242/MWh in Q1, but this was caused by the characteristics of the price-setting calculation used in the balancing mechanism rather than an actual shortage in the market.
Paul Verrill said: “The COVID-19 outbreak had only a slight impact on overall demand in Q1 as the ‘stay at home’ requirements only came into force towards the end of March. We expect a greater impact in Q2 – especially if the lockdown continues until the end of June. Demand for daily electricity generation dropped around 10% towards the end of Q1, as some offices and manufacturing plants shut down and fewer people travelled on public transport, but demand levels in the evening remained relatively stable as people still cooked their dinners and turned on the lights as normal.
“The reduction in prices in Q1 was in part driven by the growth in renewables, which reduces the demand for commodities such as gas and coal beyond their historic levels – at least within European markets.”
In the quarter, 44.6% of power generation came from renewable projects, 29.1% from gas-fired plants, 15.3% from nuclear plants, 7.3% from power imports and 3.7% from coal plants.