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King Coal dominates UK power generation

World Coal,

Last year, electricity generation in the UK continued to fall, with coal-fired power still providing the dominant share of total energy production.

These are the findings of the 2013 GB Electricity Supply & Generation Summary, provided by energy market data specialists EnAppSys.

In 2013, the total electricity supplied in the UK was 285 terrawatt hours (TWh), a decrease of 1.5% from 2012, and 11.5% lower than the pre-recession peak of 322TWh in 2007. This reduction is equivalent to the electricity consumption of 8.7 million homes.*

The report finds that the decrease in power generation is a direct result of declining energy consumption over the last six years, a trend which is predominantly driven by the economic slowdown.

During 2013, coal-fired power stations continued to be the dominant source of power generation, accounting for 41% of all power requirements in the UK. Combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) units provided 26%, nuclear provided 21%, and wind farms contributed a further 6%.

Although total levels of electricity generation have fallen since 2010, levels of coal-fired generation have climbed 22% in the same period despite a reduction in coal-fired power stations as older facilities are closed down.

The rise in coal’s share of the UK’s energy mix has largely been attributed to declining activity in gas-fired electricity generation, which is mainly the result of falling coal prices, the collapse of the EU ETS carbon price and rising LNG (liquid natural gas) prices. The drivers on coal prices are the reduction in US coal consumption due to gas displacing coal for power generation thanks to the shale gas boom.

Paul Verril, director at EnAppSys, commented: “Last year several older coal-fired stations were closed down as a part of an EU-led directive to reduce Europe-wide sulphur and nitrous oxide emissions and the introduction of the UK’s carbon floor price, with further closures expected in the coming years as further European directives are implemented. Nevertheless, coal continued to dominate UK power production.

“In the future, increases in gas-fired and wind capacity are expected to replace lost coal capacity, with wind in particular forecast to provide a greater share of total energy production as more projects come on stream.”

Other features highlighted in the report include:

  • EDF Energy remained the largest generator of electricity in the UK last year, providing 30% of total electricity generation mainly through its nuclear plants.
  • The ‘big six’ still dominate supply in the UK market, with the data indicating significantly over 80% market share in 2013.
  • Coal plants saw utilisation rates rise from 41% in 2010 to 57% in 2013, with decreasing coal and carbon prices resulting in increased levels of activity at coal-fired stations despite the UK carbon floor prices introduction in April.
  • Electricity generation produced 127 million t of carbon dioxide in 2013 – the second lowest figure in the last five years and down 7% from 2012 as several coal plants went offline and as levels of generation from wind farms increased. 2013 levels were 8% lower than the five-year high in 2010 when total electricity supply volumes peaked at 328TWh.
  • Since 2007, southern England and London have seen lower falls in electricity consumption than in other regions, indicating a stronger economic resilience in this part of the UK. While demand levels in London have now flat-lined against those in 2012, demand in Northern Scotland and Northern England, for example, has fallen more than 25% since 2007. However, some of this reduction is due to the increase in installed embedded wind and solar generation in these regions.

The EnAppSys report provides an overview of electricity generation, supply and demand in the UK during 2013 and is available to download here.

*Based on DECC’s 4222kWh figure for average annual electricity consumption per household in England, Wales and Scotland.

Adapted from press release by Katie Woodward

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