Lack of wind from turbines so coal fills electricity gap
News that the UK has fired up an old coal plant to fill a gap in electricity supplies is an unfortunate backward step, said Midlands energy expert Ron Fox.
“The problem is that the warm, still autumn weather has meant that wind farms haven’t generated as much power as normal while soaring prices have made it too costly to reply on gas,” he said.
Last month there had been only three days in mid-August when power from coal was not needed. Since August 23, the country has relied on every day to provide three per cent of national power.
The National Grid ESO, which is responsible for balancing the UK’s power supply, asked EDF to fire up its two-coal-powered units at the West Burton A power station in Nottinghamshire which has been kept on stand-by.
This site is only used between November and March during periods of high demand or when supply from other sources fluctuate. But West Burton A coal-powered units are due to close permanently in September next year.
“It is ironic,” said Ron, of Noreus Ltd on the University of Keele Science and Innovation Park in North Staffordshire, “that the government is committed to phasing out coal completely by October 1, 2024, to cut carbon emissions, but it has to resort to this fossil fuel to plug a gap in green wind power.”
Wind, which usually generates about 20 per cent of the country’s electricity, fell to as low as 1.9 per cent for a short while before returning to normal levels.
Coal still accounted for only less than four per cent of the electricity being generated, up from last year’s figure of 1.6 per cent, but down from 25 per cent five years ago and 62 per cent in 1991.
“There are three reasons,” said Ron, “gas prices are rising to their highest level on record – increased demand from Asia, a cold start to the year when countries used more power and an economic rebound after lockdown which meant there was no chance in the summer to replenish the reserves.”
But experts are concerned that high gas prices may lead to greater use of coal and oil in future with the Nuclear Industry Association saying this situation highlighted the urgent need to invest in new nuclear plants.
Also, last week a public inquiry has been opened into divisive plans for a £160 million new pit in Whitehaven, Cumbria. It would be Britain’s first new deep coal mine in more than 30 years which supporters say would bring 500 much needed jobs to the area, but opponents say it would damage the environment.
“These two events have come at a very embarrassing time,” said Ron, “only a few weeks before the UK is hosting the United Nations Climate Change conference in Glasgow.
“There Britain should be showing it is a world leader in cutting carbon emissions, but it will be very hard to encourage nations to reduce their dependence on using coal when we seem to be expanding our reliance on fossil fuels.”
For more information on green energy call Ron on 0845 474 6641.
Caption: A lack of wind power from turbines meant the UK had to rely on coal to plug a gap in electricity supplies.