An exceptional bank holiday weekend and a glimpse into the future of the energy industry
This weekend was an exceptional one for Great Britain’s energy system. With demand reduced by up to 20% by the Coronavirus lockdown and a proportion of nuclear capacity now on standby, solar and wind generation dominated our power networks like never before. Over Sunday lunchtime, carbon intensity fell to 18g CO2 per kWh – an order of magnitude lower than the 200-250g expected over the course of 2020. This can be seen here in Drax's tweet:
How low carbon did Great Britain’s #electricity system go today?
🌅 18g CO2/kWh (43g was previous record set in August)
🌬 At the time, 65% of power was from #renewables and 84% was low carbon
👉🏾 https://t.co/otBFE9zO46 #ElectricInsights pic.twitter.com/suXrcBUoXU
Wholesale day-ahead and intraday markets recorded long stretches of negative pricing interspersed by swings to ‘normal’ prices of £40/MWh. See via Nord Pool here:
In some cases this volatility was shared with consumers, with customers of Octopus Energy being paid more than £110/MWh to run their ovens and washing machines and charge their electric cars.
Meanwhile, National Grid worked hard to keep the lights on, combining well-established tools like the Balancing Mechanism with new ones like Optional Downward Flexibility Management, designed and launched over the last month. ‘Flexible’ and ‘inflexible’ assets worked together to keep supply and demand in sync. Seen here in a screenshot taken from National Grid ESO's app:
While it was exceptional for this to happen now, the weekend was a window into where we need to get to over the next 5 or 10 years. As solar and wind grow to be a more significant part of our everyday generation mix, these conditions will be more normal. It is critical to UK plc that National Grid, the DNOs and energy companies have the right tools and data at their finger tips to make efficient commercial and physical decisions. While many of the constituent parts of these tools exist, combining them in real-time and at scale is often complicated by fragmented systems and processes, geared around a small number of thermal generators acting in simpler, more predictable markets.
As the events of this weekend become less and less exceptional, it is important that we take the learnings from 2020 and apply them with some haste, to ensure that all parties are ready to embrace a faster, more volatile and ultimately greener energy world.
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