In a groundbreaking achievement, the United Kingdom has proudly unveiled its 'cleanest power grid ever' in the latest report from Drax Electric Insights. This revelation is nothing short of astonishing, as it vividly illustrates how renewables have taken the lead, contributing a remarkable 40 percent to the nation's power supply during the third quarter of this year.
The eco-conscious triumph of renewable energy sources during these three months has shattered records and demonstrated the dynamic nature of energy production. Drax Electric Insights' most recent update has unveiled a remarkable transformation in the grid's quarterly carbon intensity, as emissions have plummeted to a historic low, measuring less than 150 grams per kilowatt-hour (g/kWh) for the first time.
The mesmerizing blend of energy sources in the third quarter of this year has achieved an extraordinary feat by averaging an astonishingly low 143 grams of CO2 per kWh. This monumental achievement surpasses the previous record, which had been set during the unprecedented COVID lockdowns in the early months of 2020.
This achievement marks a significant milestone in a compelling narrative of progress unfolding over the past decade. The UK's grid has dramatically transformed, with emissions intensity plummeting from a staggering 500g/kWh to its current remarkable levels. This transformation is attributed to the strategic retirement of coal plants and the meteoric rise of renewable energy generation. The future of the UK's power grid looks undeniably green and promising.
"This is a milestone moment in the UK's decarbonisation journey, getting our carbon emissions down by more than two-thirds in just a decade is a real achievement," said Dr. Iain Staffell of Imperial College London and lead author of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report series.
"With our renewable capacity continuing to grow, we should see more clean power records broken in the coming years."
However, Staffell echoed long-standing warnings from the energy industry that the sector is not yet on track to meet the government's goal of delivering a net zero-emission power system by 2035.
"The long-term picture is more complicated, and it is vital that the government continues to explore how to unlock investment in clean energy technologies," he said. "The rise in electric vehicles and heat pumps will push up electricity demand. We need to build more renewables of all types and kick-start negative emissions technologies, not just to keep pace with demand growth, but continue growing the share of clean energy and keep carbon emissions falling."
The fall in the carbon intensity of the grid has been largely enabled by the shuttering of coal power plants, with a new analysis from Drax Electric Insights highlighting how, in the 12 months to October 2023, coal supplied less than one percent of Britain's electricity for the first time.
The country's last remaining coal-fired power station is now set to be retired next year as part of the government's commitment to end fuel use in electricity production by October 2024.
"Getting coal off the grid and replacing it with renewables such as biomass has been transformational for the UK," said Penny Small, interim chief operations officer at Drax. "By converting Drax Power Station to use biomass, we have secured jobs and simultaneously strengthened the UK's energy security through generating a reliable source of dispatchable, renewable electricity for millions of homes and businesses.
"We're now planning to go further by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to permanently remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, and we are engaged in discussions with the UK government to move this project forward."
However, using biomass as part of the clean energy transition remains controversial, with some campaigners questioning the sustainability credentials of biomass feedstocks and the cost of subsidizing new BECCS plants.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the government to come forward with plans to enable the next phase of power sector decarbonization through shuttering unabated gas-fired power plants.
The energy industry continues to call on Ministers to push through planning and grid connection reforms that can help accelerate the development of renewables and grid projects while clarifying how it intends to deliver a new wave of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen-based power projects.