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More frequent ‘coal-free fortnights’ to be driven by GB carbon taxes, coal-fired imports

Image: University Blog Spot/Flickr.

Image: University Blog Spot/Flickr.

Britain’s high carbon prices look set to drive more prolonged periods without coal generation, but the country is still reliant on coal power from overseas, energy analyst firm EnAppSys has claimed.

New analysis compiled by EnAppSys suggests that instances like Britain’s recent coal-free fortnight stand to become far more common in the future as the country’s carbon pricing renders such generators uneconomical.

However as those carbon taxes do not apply to other countries, which the UK imports power from via its portfolio of interconnectors, EnAppSys has further suggested Britain has essentially utilised coal generation from neighbouring countries.

Modelling conducted by EnAppSys during recent coal-free periods on the grid found that the largest share of coal-originating imports would have derived from the Netherlands, where lower carbon taxes - roughly half those seen in the UK - have allowed coal-fired power stations to continue to operate.

Last Friday the country celebrated reaching a new landmark record of an entire fortnight without coal generation, a coal-free period which only fell yesterday evening. That period ended at 18 days and six hours, prompted by plant availability and system requirements.

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According to figures available via Drax’s Electric Insights tool, imports accounted for an average of 3.2GW of power each day in the week commencing 26 May 2019, around 11% of the country’s daily average demand.

EnAppSys’ data suggests that during the UK’s coal-free fortnight, the Netherlands produced some 535.8GWh of power from coal-fired plants. When taking into account the Netherlands’ exports to Britain (7.8%), the company assumes that around 40.4GWh of Dutch coal-fired generation aided the UK’s coal-free record.

Adding in other countries’ contribution - Germany, for instance, is assumed to have shifted around 9.5GWh of coal generation through the passthrough of its connection with the Netherlands - EnAppSys estimates around 50.9GWh of coal-fired generation from other countries was used throughout Britain’s coal-free fortnight. This implies an effect baseload production of coal of around 151MW.

While the figure is fleeting, it serves to highlight the absence of a concerted, European-wide carbon price that Rob Lalor, senior analyst at EnAppSys, said would have prevented coal from being imported from neighbouring regions.

“Britain’s move towards a green future has seen an increased reliance on low-carbon power sources to generate electricity. This has coincided with a shift in Britain’s energy policy, with coal plants set to be phased out by 2025 and high-polluting power plants penalised by higher carbon taxes, which include the GB carbon price floor of £18 per tonne.

“This has translated into a two-week period without coal-fired power being generated within Britain, but with European markets seeing less aggressive carbon pricing, electricity generated by coal-fired power stations would have continued to have been consumed within British households,” Lalor said.

“Without a shift in policy, the number of ‘no-coal’ days is likely to increase again in future as more electricity is generated from renewable sources. Indeed, our latest GB quarterly market report revealed that the amount of clean energy derived from renewable sources hit a record high in the first three months of 2019.”

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