National Grid lights up two coal-fired power stations in freezing UK weather | Energy industry

Britain’s electricity system operator has put two coal-fired power stations on emergency standby to keep lights on during a cold spell.

The national electricity grid operator (ESO) said the two “winter emergency coal units” will be available if needed on Monday as temperatures drop below freezing and demand soars. He said the public “should continue to use the energy as usual”.

This summer, the government asked owners of coal-fired power stations to slow shutdown plans as ministers sought to boost energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia was previously a major supplier of natural gas to Europe, so the invasion has rattled global energy markets and sparked a rush for alternatives.

The coal-fired power stations in North Yorkshire set to operate on Monday are owned by energy company Drax. They will only operate under instruction from National Grid, and Drax will not be able to sell the electricity on the open market.

It comes after temperatures dipped as low as -8.6C on Sunday in Marham, Norfolk, according to the Met Office. It had issued yellow weather warnings for snow or ice for large parts of the country on Monday morning, with snowfall disrupting travel in south-east England, including London, and northern Scotland .

Falling temperatures pushed UK electricity prices to a record high on Sunday.

Britain’s power system has moved rapidly away from coal in recent years: its first coal-free day was achieved in 2017, while in 2020 the island ran without coal power for a month during a sunny May.

The use of carbon-free renewables has grown rapidly to replace them, but the UK has also increased its reliance on natural gas, a fossil fuel. This dependency proved problematic in 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Britain was heavily reliant on burning gas for power generation over the weekend, with light winds and cloudy skies. As of Saturday, gas produced 62% of Britain’s electricity, according to National Grid data. Nuclear plants generated 14%, while wind and solar accounted for 8% and 1% respectively. Coal accounted for 4%. (Northern Ireland’s energy system operates separately.)

We have issued a notification to warm up two emergency coal units for the winter. This should restore public confidence in Monday’s energy supply.

— ESO National Grid (@NationalGridESO) December 12, 2022

National Grid ESO sought to emphasize that asking coal-fired power stations to warm up did not mean it was worried about Monday’s blackouts.

“This measure should give the public confidence in Monday’s energy supply,” National Grid ESO said in a statement. “ESO, as a prudent system operator, has these tools available for an additional contingency to operate the grid as normal and the public should continue to use power as normal.”

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