Britain’s electricity system recorded its greenest ever day over the Easter bank holiday as sunshine and windy weather led to a surge in renewable energy.
The power plants generating electricity in England, Scotland and Wales produced only 39g of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour of electricity on Monday, according to National Grid’s electricity system operator, the lowest carbon intensity recorded since National Grid records began in 1935.
The new low smashed the grid’s previous record of 46g on 24 May last year, during the country’s greenest ever month for electricity generation.
On Easter Monday, wind turbines and solar farms generated 60% of all electricity as households enjoyed a bank holiday lunch. At the same time the UK’s nuclear reactors provided 16% of the electricity mix, meaning almost 80% of the grid was powered from low-carbon sources.
The low-carbon power surge, combined with lower than average demand for electricity over the bank holiday, kept gas-fired power in Great Britain to 10% of the electricity mix and caused the “carbon intensity” of the electricity system to plummet to its lowest on record.
The UK’s electricity emissions have fallen sharply over the last year due to the slump in demand for electricity from office blocks, restaurants and hotels which have stood empty for much of the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The electricity system operator said demand for electricity remained 5% lower than usual last month despite the gradual reopening of the economy, from around 20% below normal levels in April last year.
Last month, wind and solar power made up 24% and 4% of the electricity mix respectively, while gas-fired power plants made up the bulk of Britain’s electricity at 39% of the electricity mix. The carbon intensity was 185g of CO2/kWh for March, but is expected to fall through the summer months as solar power plays a larger role in meeting the country’s electricity demand.
Fintan Slye, director at the system operator at National Grid, said the latest record was another example of how Britain’s energy system was transforming “at an astonishing rate” as the industry moves away from fossil fuels and begins to harness renewable energy sources.
Over 2020 as a whole, carbon intensity fell to 181g of CO₂/kWh in part due to the collapse in demand for electricity during the coronavirus lockdowns. But under the UK’s climate targets the electricity system will need to cut its carbon intensity to around 50g of CO2/kWh in 2030, 10g of CO2/kWh in 2035, and 2g of CO2/kWh by 2050.
“It’s an exciting time, and the progress we’re seeing with these records underlines the significant strides we’re taking towards our ambition of being able to operate the system carbon free by 2025,” Slye said.