The rapid decline in coal-fired power’s share of the UK generation mix is highly visible in data presented in the last quarter by energy analysts, EnAppSys.

The monitoring specialists’ UK Q2 quarterly report also shows the continuing growth of solar power in the mix with solar overtaking levels of coal generation for the first time ever during May 2016.
According to EnAppSys, solar produced 0.89TWh of electricity during May, which was over 50 per cent more than the 1.38TWh derived from coal.

Whilst this was the first time this has happened, EnAppSys says that the reversal of roles could become a familiar trend unless the carbon price floor is altered or removed.

Phil Hewitt, director of EnAppSys, said: “Coal has gone from being the frontrunner in the industry, with the majority share of total generation, to this quarter’s fall to below the levels of electricity imports from other countries.

“With planned expansions in renewables, battery storage, import capacity and nuclear generation all still intended, it is clear that that the era of large thermal generation is slowly coming to an end, with less room for large coal and gas plants in the market.

“Overall the market is now clearly continuing to move towards a model that supports the intermittent supply of renewable generation through flexible generation.”

During the full April to June period, levels of coal generation fell by a huge 70 per cent against the previous quarter and 76 per cent in comparison to the same period of last year.

Solar sites, on the other hand, generated 23 per cent more electricity than the last quarter and 174 per cent greater than the previous year. This large year-on-year increase results from a major build-out by solar PV companies looking to obtain Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) though sub 5 MW solar PV sites, before the deadline on 31st March 2016.

Current GB solar capacity stands at around 11-12 GW and this is now expected to remain relatively steady for the next few years as no new large build-outs are likely after the ROC deadline. The overall contribution of solar will continue to increase over the summer months.

Coal’s decline reflects the closure of coal plants due to poor economic conditions, coupled with a reduction in the price of gas.

On electricity supply and demand for winter 2016/17, adapting last year’s situation with recent plant closures and new gas fired capacity coming on stream (Carrington and Keadby), it is estimated that there would have been 85 hours when the margin was less than 2 GW and 12 hours when the margin is negative.

To offset this reliance on intermittent generation and potential pinch points in system margin, National Grid is already contracting extra capacity outside of the wholesale markets in order to keep the lights on.

As a result, ‘Supplemental Balancing Reserve (SBR)’ contracts have been awarded to plants that would have otherwise had to close to enable them continue to earn an income by remaining available in the winter months of November to February when the system could be under significant stress due to under supply.

“So far the law of unintended consequences seems to have had a significant impact with energy policy being more successful in the short term than was ever expected. The rapid solar PV build out has generated much more capacity than anticipated alongside the exit of the coal stations coming much quicker than Amber Rudd’s original 2025 deadline”, said Hewitt.

“Of course moving forward we also now have Brexit to contend with, raising uncertainties over the country’s future participation in the Internal Energy Market and further concerns over investor confidence in the energy sector. Interesting times lie ahead.”

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