The UK’s electricity system will run for hours at a time without burning natural gas for generation within five years, National Grid has said.
National Grid Electricity Systems Operator says it expects to be able to run a “carbon-free” network reliant on renewable power by 2025.
A spokesperson said: “Meeting this goal means operating the system without any gas generation running for short periods in 2025.”
Natural gas, a fossil fuel drilled from underground including in the North Sea, produced nearly 40% of the UK’s electricity last year. The use of gas, which is more efficient and emits less carbon dioxide than coal, has surged as coal plants have been mothballed.
But gas itself is expected to the relegated in favour of carbon-free renewable power like wind and solar as the UK pushes toward net zero emissions by 2050. Last month, renewables generated an average of 48% of the UK’s electricity. Experts have said the boom in renewable generation during the coronavirus crisis has shown the feasibility of running an electricity system dependent on renewable power.
Jess Ralston, analyst at the Energy and Climate Change Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “Recent tests of an increasingly flexible energy system during sunny bank holidays in lockdown, all of which have been dealt with without issue, show that the grid is ready to move quicker than many thought possible.”
The initial first gas-free periods are likely to be hours rather than days but slowly to increase in duration and frequency, replicating the diminishing of coal power.
The UK’s electricity system notched its first coal-free period since the establishment of the grid, a total of four hours, in May 2016. Less than a year later, in April 2017, that was a coal-free day and last May it was a week and then a new record of 18 days.
This year power demand dampened by the coronavirus lockdown and record generation from renewables have extended the streak—to 67 days, 17 hours and counting—and raised the possibility of a coal-free summer. National Grid said it is unable to forecast when the country’s remaining four coal-fired power stations will come back online.
However, while the government has committed to entirely phasing out coal by 2024, natural gas will likely retain some role in our fuel mix for the foreseeable future, enabled by carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems. The government latest Budget committed to spending £800 million to develop large-scale CCS systems for natural gas plants.
National Grid said it was difficult to forecast when the UK might run for a whole day without natural gas that isn't coupled with a carbon capture system.
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