Polluting UK coal plants export power to France as cold weather bites

18th November 2017 | Commercial Energy

Polluting coal power stations in Britain have been profiting from the woes of the low-carbon French nuclear industry this month, according to analysis of energy generation data for the Guardian.

Tricastin, one of France’s biggest nuclear power stations, was closed by the French regulator in September so that works could be undertaken to address a flood risk.

The plan’s reactors make up four of 19 currently offline in the French nuclear power industry, which experienced even worse outages last winter due to regulatory safety checks. The operators of Britain’s eight remaining coal power stations appear to have stepped in to exploit higher French prices, exporting power across the channel as temperatures have plunged. UK coal power generation has declined rapidly in recent years under the carbon tax.

Coal Plants

Most of the time, France sends electricity to the UK through 43-mile-long cables between Folkestone and a site near Calais, but in November there have been more hours when power has flowed in the other direction. On Friday, power through the interconnector was almost entirely flowing at maximum capacity towards France.

“We are now exporting to France through the interconnector which is unusual. Normally we are a net importer from France but yet again towards the end of the year we are exporting,” said Andrew Crossland, who runs MyGridGB, a site that monitors power generation data. “Essentially this means that France is importing higher carbon electricity than it can produce at home,” he added.

Data compiled by Crossland shows coal power has continued to decline in the UK this year after dramatically falling two-thirds in 2016. There have been 583 coal-free hours in 2017 to date – compared with 210 last year – with coal providing just 6.7% of electricity supply so far.

Analysis by Iain Staffell, lecturer in sustainable energy at Imperial College and author of the Electric Insights report, came to a similar conclusion.

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