The National Grid Electricity Systems Operator (ESO) has reported that by the middle of the decade the electricity system could be fully supported by carbon-free resources, rather than having to keep fossil fuels online to maintain stability.
This could power the UK’s electricity grid completely without fossil fuels in just four years. At the moment, the grid has to draw constantly from conventional power plants. Even if demand can be fully met by nuclear and renewable energy sources, fossil fuels such as natural gas must be kept online to provide stability to the grid.
This could change if the National Grid ESO can find new ways to get inertia (in this context, energy in power plant turbines that help stabilize the grid) from alternative sources, such as hydroelectric power plants or repurposed gas turbines.
It reported that by 2025 it could be ready to have periods when it does not draw on fossil fuels at all, meeting a target set in 2019.
In May 2020, while there was potential for nearly 100 percent carbon-free electricity, the Grid control room withdrew some wind and hydropower and replaced it with gas and biomass to provide adequate inertia. This meant that 83 percent of the power came from carbon-free sources.
“We are confident that by 2025 we will have periods of 100 per cent carbon-free electricity, with no fossil fuels used to generate power in Britain,” said Fintan Slye, executive director of National Grid ESO. “The growth of renewables, with record levels of wind and solar, means there will be enough carbon-free generation to meet demand.
” “A key challenge is to ensure that the electricity system is ready to absorb that power. Our engineers are applying innovative, first-class approaches to transform the way power system operators, such as removing the need to leverage fossil fuel-based generation for critical stabilizing properties.” Energy Ministers Anne-Marie Trevelyan commented:
“Today’s report shows that the industry and the public’s hard work to ramp up renewables is paying off and we are on the cusp of reaching periods of 100 percent carbon-free electricity generation without fossil fuels.
” “There is still a long way to go, so we are continuing our ambitious commitments to increase renewable energy in the UK and invest in new, green technologies.” The share of the UK’s electricity supply supplied by fossil fuels has generally declined as renewable infrastructure grows and costs fall.
Coal’s share of generation has fallen from 25 percent just five years ago to 1.6 percent in 2020, which was a record 68 days without the source. In April, the National Grid ESO announced that a combination of low electricity demand and strong solar and wind conditions has reduced the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the electricity grid to its lowest recorded level (39 g per unit).
Last year, electricity generation from renewables overtook fossil fuels for the first time, thanks in part to below-average demand related to the Covid-19 pandemic.