Octopus Energy has called for the end of the use of coal as a backup energy source, as the ESO activates its contingency coal units for the first time this winter.
The UK’s third biggest energy supplier is urging the operator to use alternatives such as the Demand Flexibility Service (DFS) to provide stability and security to the grid, as opposed to coal.
According to the company, DFS provides a ‘coal-ossal opportunity’ and customers have proven over the winter that they can provide adequate flexibility to replace the need for the coal units.
“The grid has shown incredible initiative by moving on demand flexibility so quickly. But its commitment to keeping one foot in the past and sticking with the same polluting coal power plants that we have had for decades is sending mixed signals,” said Alex Schoch, head of flexibility at Octopus Energy.
“National Grid’s new demand flexibility service is already offering a cheaper, more practical and sustainable solution to peaks in energy demand, while putting millions of pounds back into people’s pockets that would otherwise be paid to fossil fuel companies. Even during this cold snap, households can deliver the flexibility that’s needed, get paid for it and reduce costs for everyone.”
The call comes following National Grid ESO warming four of its five available contingency coal units today, having signed contracts with Drax, EDF and Uniper last year to keep their retiring coal units online till the end of March to provide a last-resort option.
Whilst these have now been warmed five separate times – on 7 February, 26 January, 23 January and 12 December as well as today – EDF’s West Burton unit activating around 13:50 today marked the first time they’ve actually been used.
“With insufficient spare capacity on the system forecast between 16.30 – 20.30 today, National Grid ESO had instructed coal fired units at Drax and West Burton at 03.00 on 7th March to be prepared to provide additional power if required,” noted Shivam Malhotra, consultant at LCP Delta in response to the activation.
“That power is now needed, and coal fired power from the two units at West Burton has started generating electricity from coal and will be producing for the next 10 hours. Concern on the tightness of the system has been triggered by strikes in France which is reducing confidence in securing electricity from the interconnectors, along with low wind output in GB, and forecast high demand at 18:00 tonight.”
Similar periods of system constraint has pushed the grid in Britain on various occasions this winter, but overall, mild weather and strong wind generation have helped avoid some of the worst of the anticipated challenges.
Twice active DFS sessions have been used to aid grid stability, first between 17:00 and 18:00 on 23 January, when the operator requested 323MW in the first half an hour and 336MW in the second.
The second live event ran just the day after on 24 January between 16:30 and 18:00, with 274MW required for the first half an hour, 330MW for the second and 341MW for the final half an hour.
This is in addition to over a dozen test events that have been run since the service went live in November.
Octopus Energy has been a particularly active participant within these events through its Saving Sessions scheme, and during the two live events provided the same energy demand drop as turning off the city of Leicester would, according to the company.
It has argued that if other suppliers provided a similar level of demand flexibility coal would not be needed to meet power demand during peak times.
Over the past four months, almost half of Octopus Energy’s eligible smart meter customers (around 600,000) have signed up to the scheme, which so far has paid out almost £5 million for 12.5 hours of reduced demand.