Why a green electricity grid depends on weather forecasts improving
18th January 2021 | Commercial Energy
Boxing Day 2020 was so blustery that more than half of the UK’s daily electricity was met by wind power for the first time. Just over a week later, the wind died as a cold snap kicked off 2021 with sub-zero temperatures and scattered snow. With most people stuck at home due to a new national lockdown, demand for heating and electricity rose just as the conditions for generating renewable energy abated.
Green electricity grid
Cold snaps with very light winds tend to cause the most stress to the UK’s national grid. These weather systems usually form when regions of high pressure engulf the atmosphere around the UK, causing temperatures to plummet as cold weather arrives from Scandinavia and Russia. The prolonged cold weather associated with these events is sometimes dubbed “Beast from the East” by the British media, after similar atmospheric conditions brought snowstorms and travel chaos in February 2018. This time around, the UK’s large offshore wind farms in the North Sea were among the biggest losers. The low winds and high cloud cover reduced wind and solar power generation, forcing the National Grid – the UK’s power system operator – to call for suppliers to generate extra electricity of face potential blackouts.
In the past, demand spikes and tight supply margins would be solved by ramping up generation from fossil fuel power plants, which are effectively on standby. But the UK’s power grid increasingly relies on renewable energy sources – and the government plans to quadruple offshore wind generation by 2030. Great Britain is connected to France, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands by large power cables that allow electricity to flow between them. But the UK cannot relay on importing energy, as the cold and still conditions created during these atmospheric events also tend to affect neighbouring countries.
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