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2016’s seismic shift in electricity generation

CARBON emissions from Britain's power sector fell to their lowest level for 60 years as more coal came off the system making way for renewables in the final quarter of 2016.

2016’s seismic shift in electricity generation

The latest figures were revealed in the Electric Insights quarterly report produced by researchers at Imperial College London in collaboration with Drax.

It means 2016 saw the most dramatic shift in the make-up of electricity generation since the 1984 miners' strike, with much of it played out on the Humber.

Coal generation fell 61 per cent from the previous year as a mixture of low gas prices and the Carbon Price Floor continued to force it off the system. Gas generation was up by more than 50 per cent.

The September to December period saw low carbon sources provide an average of 40 per cent of Britain's electricity needs over the quarter, peaking at a record 81 per cent high over the Christmas period.

Wind output was low – over the quarter it was 7 per cent down on the same period in 2015. This winter has seen fewer large storms, resulting in lower average wind speeds compared to previous years. Wind speeds in Q4 2016 were down 15 per cent on 2015, the lowest since 2012.

Despite this, when Storm Barbara passed through just before Christmas, it enabled wind power to pass the 10GW barrier for the first time in Britain, beating the previous record of 9.4GW set in 2014. However, wind farms also spent a whole day producing on average, less than 0.7GW – an output of just 5 per cent of their installed capacity.

Andy Koss, Drax Power chief executive, said: "These figures highlight a truly seismic shift in the balance of power. Coal continues to disappear at a dramatic rate and we can see the impact of intermittent renewables which have been affected by dramatic weather events.

"Low gas prices and the Carbon Price Floor are forcing coal off the system and helping to ensure the UK is on track to meet its carbon targets for the power generation industry.

"It's essential the UK's energy system is supported by the right mix of power generation. Coal-to-biomass conversions and gas peaking plants are the best way to get coal off the system quickly and cost effectively while ensuring security of supply."

The report also found that Britain became a net exporter to France for the first time in six years due to a crisis with French nuclear stations, but exports were limited due to the interconnector being damaged.

A loss of imports from France left the power market tight with National Grid issuing notices of thin margins. Power price volatility grew, with peak prices over £1,500/MWh.

Dr Iain Staffell, of Imperial College London, said: "These figures clearly show that the Carbon Price Floor (CPF) has played an important part in relegating coal to a more 'climate-friendly' role providing infrequent peaking power at times of greatest need, allowing lower carbon gas to take over as the baseload generator.

"Over the last two years the CPF has added 0.5p/kWh to the cost of generation, or about 3 per cent of a household electricity bill. In return it has played a major part in reducing carbon emissions by a third, making it excellent value for money."

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