May was the ‘greenest’ month ever on record for the UK electricity system as it ran without any coal-fired power for an entire calendar month.
The energy system operator, National Grid, said that the lowest carbon intensity ever recorded for the grid was helped by the solar power produced by the sunniest spring on record.
Last month, the sunny and gusty weather helped wind and solar power to generate around 28% of the electricity in Britain. In comparison, gas-fired power made up 30% of the power generated.
On the other hand, there has been little space for coal power plants to play a role during this time as there has been relatively low demand for electricity during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The UK’s electricity system has now run for over 50 consecutive days without coal-power, which has caused the carbon intensity of the electricity grid to plummet to the lowest average level ever recorded: 143g CO2/kWh.
Sunday 24 May saw the lowest carbon intensity recorded for a single day with 46g CO2/kWh.
The fall in demand due to the lockdown, as well as two bank holidays in a fortnight, aided in achieving the record. However, the head of National Grid’s control centre, Roisin Quinn, says that the primary reason was the unseasonably sunny weather.
According to Met Office data, this past month was the driest May for 124 years, with this spring being the sunniest ever since records began.
A staggering 573 hours of sunshine was recorded during 1 March and 27 May by the Met Office. The previous record of 555.3 hours was in 1948.
“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,” said Quinn.
Quinn said that the exceptionally high level of renewable energy being generated, along with the record lows of demand for electricity, posed a ‘unique challenge’. This is because engineers in the National Grid’s control room had to ensure that the increased level of renewable energy did not overload the grid.
A staggering £500m more than usual is expected to be spent by the National Grid this summer as it will need to pay generators to turn their power plants off due to low demand.
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