Coal generated a record low 6% of the UK’s electricity this spring, official figures show. The share of coal in the power mix fell from 20% in the same period last year, following the closures of Ferrybridge C, West Yorkshire, and Longannet coal-fired power station in Scotland. Another coal unit at Drax, North Yorkshire, has also switched from the fossil fuel to burning biomass.
Renewable power also fell marginally in April to June 2016 compared to the previous spring, to just below 25% of the mix as a result of reduced wind speeds and rainfall which affected wind turbine output and hydropower.
The gap left by coal was filled by gas, which generated 45% of the UK’s electricity this spring – up from 30% the previous year. Overall; low carbon sources of electricity – renewables and nuclear – generated around 46% of the total.
Official figures reveal that greenhouse gases were down 1.3% in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the previous three months, as a result of the large switch from coal to gas for electricity in the spring.
Emissions for the year ending in the second quarter of 2016 were down almost 6% on the previous year, once the impact of warmer temperatures was taken into account.
Data also reveals that by the end of August some 11 gigawatts (GW) of solar panels had been installed across 886,523 schemes from household arrays to huge solar farms. The figure was 30% on August 2015 but installation of new capacity has largely stalled in the wake of curbs on subsidies for the renewable power, the figures show.
The first shipment of US shale gas is arriving in Scotland amid a fierce debate about the future of fracking in the UK. A tanker carrying 27,500m3 of ethane from US shale fields is due to dock at Grangemouth, the refinery and petrochemicals plant owned by INEOS. The company said the gas would replace dwindling North Sea supplies and secure the future of the plant’s workforce.
The company said the shipment aboard the carrier INEOS Insight was the culmination of a £1.6bn investment resulting in eight tankers forming a “virtual pipeline” between the US and the UK and Norway.
INEOS argues that with the North Sea’s supply of ethane dwindling, plus costs, the shipments from the US are the only way of bringing in sufficient gas at low enough prices to maintain its olefins and polymers business at Grangemouth in the face of global competition. It believes the US shale gas will provide sufficient raw material to run its manufacturing site at full rates, something that has not been possible for many years. The Grangemouth facility is home to Scotland’s only crude oil refinery and produces the bulk of fuels used in Scotland.
Maersk, the Copenhagen-based shipping giant, is to be split up with its energy interests directed more towards the North Sea. The family-owned firm, formally known as AP Moller-Maersk, will focus on its transport and logistics business. The energy division is to shrink its global reach and focus more on the North Sea, where it has expertise.
Work will continue on existing energy projects, including some of the biggest projects in the UK offshore sector but the company signalled that new investment commitments may be low particularly in tankers and drilling.
Maersk’s energy business faces problems which are at least as deep as shipping, due to the fall in the price of oil. The company’s strategic review speaks of finding “solutions” including joint ventures, mergers or spinning off companies for separate listing.
It is operator of the Culzean gas field development, which is one of the biggest in UK waters for 25 years. It is expected to meet 5% of Britain’s gas demand after it comes on-stream, scheduled for 2019. Its other production is from Denmark, Qatar, Kazakhstan, the US Gulf of Mexico and Algeria. Exploration and development activities are also underway in Angola, Kenya, Ethiopia, Greenland, Brazil, Kurdistan, and the huge Johan Sverdrup field being developed in the Norwegian North Sea.
China has been building two wind turbines every hour, the International Energy Agency (lEA) has said. This is the world’s biggest programme of turbine installation; double that of its nearest rival, the US. The nation’s entire annual increase in energy demand has been fulfilled from the wind.
The lEA warns China has built so much coal-fired generating capacity that it is turning off wind turbines for 15% of the time. The problem is that coal-fired power stations are given priority access to the grid. A lEA spokesman stated: “The rather rosy statement on wind energy hides the issue that 2015 and the first half of 2016 also saw record new installations of coal.” “China has now a clear over-supply. In the province of Gansu, 39% of wind energy had to be curtailed (turned off because there is not enough capacity on the grid).” The average European wind farm is forced to stop generating between 1-2% of the year.
The lEA says China installed more than 30,000 MW of new wind energy in 2015 – partly thanks to a rush driven by the Chinese government making its existing subsidies less attractive. Construction has slackened in 2016, but only to a level of more than one turbine per hour.
Nuclear energy companies say the approval of the £18bn Hinkley Point power station will boost plans for new reactors across the UK in spite of stricter conditions for foreign investment.
Executives said Theresa May’s go ahead for the Somerset project, which is led by EDF, the French utility, with Chinese backing, had removed doubts about the prime minister’s commitment to the renewal of UK nuclear power.
Vincent de Rivaz, head of EDF in the UK, who said the tougher conditions for foreign investment in critical infrastructure, would strengthen UK industrial strategy and governance. “They provide strategy and governance. They provide what investors need,” he said. The proposals for closer government oversight were prompted in part by security concerns about the one-third stake in Hinkley held by state-owned Chinese investors, as well as plans to build a plant at Bradwell in Essex using Chinese technology. Details of the golden share have yet to be fleshed out but it is expected to give ministers power to block deals on grounds of national interest.
It has emerged that Kepco, the South Korean power company, was closing in on a deal to join the NuGen consortium alongside Toshiba of Japan and Engie of France. Another group called Horizon, owned by Hitachi of Japan, is also seeking partners for its project at Wylfa in Anglesey.
By backing Hinkley, Mrs May has confirmed nuclear power will be crucial to UK efforts to deliver urgently needed new electricity generating capacity while cutting carbon emissions. A new reactor has not been completed in Britain since 1995 and much of the country’s once world-leading strength in nuclear technology has been lost. EDF has promised to help rebuild the domestic nuclear supply chain with a target of 64% of construction spending to go to UK companies.