UK grid resilience
Image credit: Pxhere.

Independent analysis, conducted via Imperial Consultants, by academics from Imperial College London, has shown the importance of flexibility in avoiding power cuts, and how a variety of energy technologies rose to the challenge in the first quarter of 2020.

Output from wind farms soared, up by 40% compared to Q1 2019, as severe storms meant Britain experienced its wettest and windiest February since records began – but it was flexible power stations and action from businesses, able to reduce their electricity usage in January, which helped prevent blackouts during cold, calm spells.

Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London and lead author of the quarterly Electric Insights reports said, “Britain’s electricity system is under pressure like never before, with both the country’s weather getting more extreme and a global pandemic testing its resolve.

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“So far in 2020 we’ve seen companies reducing their demand for electricity to help keep the grid stable when supply from wind power rapidly decreased, and then the Covid-19 lockdown caused many businesses to shut up shop, reducing electricity demand and creating new challenges with oversupply of power.

“Having flexibility within the power system at these critical moments is crucial to keeping Britain’s lights on.”

The report shows that:

  • When output from wind power fell sharply on cold, calm days the stress to the system increased and in one incident created a higher chance of blackouts, with just 0.2GW of spare capacity available, compared to over 4GW the following day.
  • Flexible technologies like biomass, pumped storage and gas were able to increase their output to fill the void on some occasions when wind power reduced.
  • An evening peak in demand was also managed with factories and supermarkets reducing their electricity usage, helping to maintain normal day-ahead power prices.
  • After lockdown measures were introduced to contain the spread of Covid-19, weekday demand for electricity fell by 13% to levels not seen since the early 1980s.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO said: “So far in 2020, our lives, as well as the power system, have been affected like never before. To overcome the challenges we’re facing, we must keep sight of the importance of building a sustainable recovery for both our communities and our climate.

“By embracing flexible, low carbon technologies we will enable the UK’s power system to evolve and provide the secure and sustainable electricity supplies a post-Covid, zero carbon economy needs.”

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