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Headlines from the 2020 Q2 report

Electricity under lockdown: cheaper, cleaner, but harder to control. April, May and June saw daily life heavily restricted for most of the Great British public. Millions of people were furloughed or working from home, with shops shuttered up and down the country. This complete reworking of society continued to have unprecedented impacts on the power system.

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Electricity prices plummet

Power prices have fallen to their lowest in nearly two decades. Prices are down by two-thirds over the last two years, reaching a minimum of just £22/MWh over the month of May. Britain spent £1.3 billion less on electricity supply over the second quarter of this year compared to last year. The total cost of generation (based on wholesale prices plus balancing charges) fell from £3.0 to £1.7 billion over the three months.

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Solar eclipses coal

May saw Britain’s solar panels produce more than ever, while every coal power station spent the whole month sitting idle. Solar panels supplied an average of 2.7 GW of power during May, surpassing 10% of the month’s electricity demand. Growing output from renewables, along with suppressed demand saw no coal power stations operate for 67 days straight.

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How to count carbon emissions

Reduced demand, boosted renewables, and the near-total abandonment of coal pushed last quarter’s carbon emissions from electricity generation below 10 million tonnes. Emissions are at their lowest in modern times, having fallen by three-quarters compared to the same period ten years ago. The average carbon emissions fell to a new low of 153 grams per kWh of electricity consumed over the quarter.

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The cost of staying in control

The cost of keeping Britain’s power system stable has soared, and now adds 20% onto the cost of generating electricity. The actions that National Grid takes to manage the power system have typically amounted to 5% of generation costs over the last decade, but this share has quadrupled over the last two years. In the first half of 2020, the cost of these actions averaged £100 million per month.

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Capacity and production statistics

Four-tenths of Britain’s electricity came from renewables last quarter, while coal supplied just 1/500th. Coal’s share has fallen from over a fifth just five years ago. The prospect of zero coal over a whole quarter now seems quite real.

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Power system records

Britain’s solar farms and biomass power stations had a record-breaking quarter. The 30th of May saw solar power provide a third of the country’s electricity demand at its peak. Biomass also reached new highs, supplying a sixth of electricity demand the previous night. Meanwhile, demand fell to its lowest levels this century, falling below 17 GW on the 28th of June.

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