UK coal plants called on to supply electricity amid fall in wind generation and surge in price of gas in the country
Owners of the last remaining coal power stations in the UK are in line to be paid record sums of money in order to keep the lights on as energy prices in the country reach fresh highs, and could be pushed even higher as a result of lower wind power.
Coal plants have been called upon to supply power steadily in recent months, through one of the least windy summers on record since the year 1961 and sharply rising energy prices in the wholesale energy market.
The UK’s electricity system operator (ESO) had spent more than £86m last week alone just to keep the lights on, which involved making payments of up to £4,000 per megawatt-hour for fossil fuel stations in order to generate electricity at short notice, including the West Burton plant in Nottinghamshire, as well as a coal unit at the Drax site in North Yorkshire.
This comes after climate protestors blocked at least five junctions on the M25, causing miles of queues along the motorway. Footage shared on social media platforms showed angry drivers attempting to drag the protestors from the road.
The UK has largely been weaning off of coal power within recent years, but the remaining power plants are available on standby to accept eye-watering offers of money from National Grid ESO in times of need, such as amid cold spikes or low wind conditions. The Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power plant near Nottingham is also in line to benefit from the record power prices in the nation this week.
The price of electricity on the UK’s main power auction had risen above £400 per unit for the first time on Monday, while the price of gas in the nation had surged to a record price of 150p per therm.
These increases follow market highs from last week. Experts predict that the UK wholesale prices for energy will climb higher in the days ahead due to low wind speeds forecasts, which will limit the country’s renewable energy generation.
According to Bloomberg data, the price of electricity during Tuesday evening’s peak power demand hours has reached a new record of £1,750 a MWh, more than 2,900% higher than the average price over the last decade.
Prices have soared within recent months owing to a global gas market surge, which had followed a cold winter in the northern hemisphere that left gas storage facilities depleted. The record gas prices has made electricity more expensive in the UK, where almost half of all electricity is generated by gas plants.
In addition to this, the UK has faced a “perfect storm” of power plant outages and low wind speeds that has forced energy prices higher despite demand “not being very high at the moment”, according to Rajiv Gogna, a partner at LCP Energy Analytics.
This comes after Extinction Rebellion have begun a two week series of climate protests in London with activists demanding that the UK government stops new investments into fossil fuels. The campaign group is expecting thousands of people to take part in their “Impossible Rebellion”, which is set “target the root cause of the climate and ecological crisis”.
Phil Hewitt, a director at the energy consultancy EnAppSys, added that Wednesday and Thursday looked even more volatile than the start of the week, “so we suspect that this is not the end of the high prices”.
The record market prices are expected to lead to hikes in household energy bills until 2022, plunging more than half a million people in the UK into fuel poverty for the first time and causing many small energy suppliers to go bust.
Clare Moriarty, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said it was deeply concerning that energy prices were continuing to rise, “meaning we’re likely to see yet another hike in bills next year”.