In late February 2018 high pressure over the North Atlantic and low pressure over the Mediterranean combined to generate a strong easterly airflow that brought Siberian temperatures to Western Europe, increasing heating demand to the point where there was a shortage of natural gas. The outcome was an increase in UK coal generation, partly because coal briefly became cheaper than gas as a source of electricity generation but mostly because the UK did not have enough gas in storage to fill both home heating and electricity generation needs. The UK, however, plans to shut down all its coal plants by 2025, and in this post I speculate as to what might have happened if they had all been shut down in 2018. The conclusion is that the UK would not have been able to cover peak load deficits during much of the cold period owing to inadequate gas supplies and installed gas capacity.
This post was prompted by the Drax Electric Insights Quarterly linked to by correspondent Ed T in Blowout Week 231. I had not come across this report before, but it provides a good summary of UK quarterly activity and I have plagiarized it where appropriate.
Figure 1 shows UK generation by source over the period between February 1 and March 31 2018, covering the Beast From the East cold periods. The generation data are five-minute Gridwatch values averaged into hourly intervals and the temperature data are daily means from the Met Office Central England temperature site:
Figure 1: UK hourly generation by source and mean daily Central England temperatures, February 1 to March 31 2018
Imports are plotted at the bottom because this is the only way I have found of displaying negative values (exports) on a stacked bar chart. Together with nuclear and biomass they provided reasonably stable baseload generation.
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