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GB electricity demand resurged in Q1 as low wind drove tight margin trend

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

Electricity demand in Great Britain returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in Q1 2021, with tight margins being a common feature of the quarter.

This is according to new analysis from EnAppSys, whose data showed total demand at the transmission level being 56.0TWh, close to the 55.7TWh seen in Q1 2020. This coincided with similar conditions in Europe, with average demand being 10TWh higher compared to the previous year due to the cold weather.

However, a combination of low wind levels - the generation class provided 19.3TWh compared to 23.0TWh in Q1 2020 - and the cold weather resulted in a greater proportion of fossil fuels being used than in Q1 2020, with fossil fuels contributing 41% of total demand in Q1 2021 compared to 36% from renewables and 15% from nuclear.

These low levels of wind – alongside the return to high demand – meant the system was often tight, with the average margin being 18% lower than in Q1 last year.

Tight margins have been a consistent theme of the quarter, particularly in January when they drove the power price for the Nord Pool N2EX auction to 1000.04GBP/MWh.

The same month saw prices in the Balancing Mechanism reach £3,000/MWh and then, less than a week later, £4,000/MWh, with EDF's West Burton securing those prices. This came as National Grid ESO issued two Electricity Margin Notices due to tighter margins.

EnAppSys detailed how the average day-ahead auction price over the quarter was £64/MWh, with this being the highest in any Q1 since 2014.

Paul Verrill, director of EnAppSys, explained that there were "particularly high price spikes during cold snaps", with day-ahead auction prices peaking at £1,500/MWh for the 5pm-6pm period on January 14 "and at practically the same price level for the same period on the preceding day".

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