Coal power stations fired up and customers paid to cut energy use in UK cold snap | Energy industry

Britain’s electricity generators have been forced to warm up coal-fired power stations for the second time this winter after a sustained period of cold weather and lower wind generation.

With a high pressure weather system with associated light winds likely to dominate for a few more days, National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO) said early on Sunday it had asked Drax to start “warming” two of its coal units at its North Yorkshire site and EDF to do the same for one at its West Burton plant in Nottinghamshire to ensure supplies on Monday.

The operator added that it was also activating its live demand flexibility service between 5pm and 6pm on Monday. Selected customers will be financially incentivised to cut their consumption between those hours.

The request over the power plants followed a similar one in the middle of December, although back then the coal-fired stations were not used, as the operator generated enough power from other sources.“Our forecasts show electricity supply margins are expected to be tighter than normal on Monday evening,” the ESO said. “We have instructed coal-fired power units to be available to increase electricity supplies should it be needed tomorrow evening.

“This does not mean electricity supplies are at risk and people should not be worried. These are precautionary measures to maintain the buffer of spare capacity we need.”

Last summer, amid a peak in gas prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the ESO negotiated a winter contingency contract with a number of coal generators at the request from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“Overall, this is likely to be a challenging winter for energy supply throughout Europe. We have taken extensive measures to try to mitigate the impacts for British consumers and expect that, under our base case, margins will be adequate,” ESO said at the time.

Normally there is enough power generated by onshore and offshore wind turbines, however ESO said it had taken the precautionary step to ensure the lights stay on as the country gets back to work on Monday.

With much of the UK enjoying light winds and a cold sunny Sunday, wind power accounted for just 6.89 gigawatts, about 17.6% of the total being generated.

Two weeks ago on 10 January, British windfarms were producing three times as much power, averaging 21.69GW, and setting a new record.

In spite of Sunday’s move to prepare coal-fired units for generation, data shows the UK’s generation is becoming greener. More than 50% of the country’s electricity came from zero-carbon sources in December and another record was achieved on 30 December, with a peak of 87.2% of electricity coming from zero-carbon sources in one day, according to ESO.

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