Tag: energy policy

Fourth biomass unit conversion

RNS Number : 1114C
Drax Group PLC

Drax welcomes the UK Government response to the consultation on cost control for further biomass conversions under the Renewable Obligation scheme, which will enable Drax to convert a fourth unit to biomass.

The response proposes that, rather than imposing a cap on ROC(1) support for any future biomass unit conversions, a cap would be applied at the power station level across all ROC(1) units. This would protect existing converted units and limit the amount of incremental ROCs attributable to additional unit conversions to 125,000 per annum.

The response would enable Drax to optimise its power generation from biomass across its three ROC units under the cap, whilst supporting the Government’s objective of controlling costs under the Renewable Obligation scheme.

Drax will now continue its work to deliver the low cost conversion of a fourth biomass unit, accelerating the removal of coal-fired generation from the UK electricity system, whilst supporting security of supply.

Drax plans to complete the work on this unit as part of a major planned outage in the second half of 2018, before returning to service in late 2018. The capital cost is significantly below the level of previous conversions, re-purposing the existing co-firing facility on site to deliver biomass to the unit.

The unit will likely operate with lower availability than the three existing converted units, but the intention is for it to run at periods of higher demand, which are often those of higher carbon intensity, allowing optimisation of ROC(1) generation across three ROC(1) accredited units. The CfD(2) unit remains unaffected.

Will Gardiner, Chief Executive of Drax Group, commented:

“We welcome the Government’s support for further sustainable biomass generation at Drax, which will allow us to accelerate the removal of coal from the electricity system, replacing it with flexible low carbon renewable electricity.”

“We look forward to implementing a cost-effective solution for our fourth biomass unit at Drax.”


Investor Relations:

Mark Strafford

+44 (0) 1757 612 491


Ali Lewis

+44 (0) 1757 612 165


Website: www.drax.com/uk


  1. Renewable Obligation Certificate
  2. Contract for Difference




Going off grid: The companies generating their own energy

The residents of Cupertino, California are getting used to their new space-aged neighbour. In this Silicon Valley city, a sleek, doughnut-shaped flying saucer sits on a hillside, overlooking the population. But this is no extra-terrestrial. This is the new home of Cupertino’s most-famous inhabitant: Apple.

The so-called Apple Campus 2 ‘spaceship’ has caused a stir since it opened this year. With its abundance of trees, 100,000 square-foot wellness centre, revolutionary chairs and specially designed pizza boxes, it aims to be, as the late Steve Jobs declared it, “the best office building in the world.”

But there’s also something interesting going on outside the building where women and men think up the next iPhone. Around the 175-acre campus sits 805,000 square-feet of solar arrays. The 17 megawatts (MW) of solar panels on the spaceship’s roof and 4 MW of fuel cell storage will provide 75% of the building’s daytime electricity, with the rest coming from a nearby 130 MW solar farm.

The aim is to not only power operations with renewable energy, but to do so with self-generated renewable energy – and Apple aren’t alone in this endeavour.

Driven by a need to operate more cleanly and enabled by increasingly accessible renewable energy technologies, many companies are now pursuing their own energy independence. Could we soon see the first entirely off-grid multinational?

Going off grid

Think of IKEA and you might think of long afternoons wrestling woodwork and Allen keys – what you don’t think of is wind turbines. However, the Swedish retailer, which boasts 355 locations across 29 countries, recently saw the number of wind turbines it owns exceed the number of stores. By 2020 it aims to generate more renewable energy than it uses worldwide – something it’s already achieved in the Nordics and Canada.

IKEA isn’t the only retailer exploring innovative energy models. US shopping and leisure mall giants Target and Walmart, which count almost 7,000 locations between them, are also looking to self-generate renewable energy at mass scale.

Making use of the space available at their massive stores, the retailers are looking to rooftop solar systems to power their efforts to reach 100% renewable energy. At the end of last year Target was the US’ leading corporate solar installer with 147.5 MW of capacity, followed by Walmart with 145 MW.

Unsurprisingly, the tech industry is making a big push towards self-supply or sourcing power from 100% renewable generators. This is largely down to just how much electricity they use, particularly when it comes to things like data centres.

Estimated by some to become the largest users of electrical power on the planet by the 2020s, datacentres house hundreds of rows of servers that remotely store and process internet and mobile data from around the world. They are the physical footprint of our digital, cloud computing age and already they’re estimated to use roughly 3% of the global electricity supply.

One big user of datacentres — crypto currency Blockchain — is projected by 2020 to use about the same amount of power each year as Denmark.

Microsoft has tackled its datacentre demand by both developing in-house generation capabilities and by partnering with local utilities suppliers to source renewable energy for their centres. Not only does this make operations cleaner, but the independence can also increase the reliability of their power supplies, which are often backed up by batteries.

There are other obvious benefits for companies going energy-independent – one being the PR boost. But there is also a significant bottom line benefit, even for partly self-generating organisations. In the first half of 2017 Thames Water cut £12 million from its annual energy bills by producing 23% of its own electricity.

Biomass domes

While solar and wind made up part of this, the water management company generated much of the 146 GWh it produced through biogas made from its own sewage management facilities. The power it didn’t generate itself was sourced from Haven Power in the form of renewable biomass electricity.

What it means for the grid

The cynical view may be one that says energy independence is a further step towards entirely independent and unregulated multinationals, but there are signs it can benefit the wider population too.

Some self-generation operations can feed electricity back into the grid, serving as a backup resource at times of high demand. This idea of ‘prosuming’ (both producing and consuming electricity) is growing outside of big businesses in the residential space. With the rise of electric vehicles and their potential to store and feed power back to the grid, it is one likely to grow even further, and big companies are taking note.

Microsoft points to its Cheyenne, Wyoming-based data centre as an example of this. Local utility Black Hills Energy (which it has partnered with to source renewable power) has the ability to draw from the datacentre’s normally dormant backup generators in times of need.

In the UK, this is happening on a smaller scale. Hamerton Zoo Park, in Cambridgeshire, generates its own onsite wind, solar and biomass power, making it the most ‘environmentally friendly zoo in Europe’. Excess power not used on site is then sold back to the grid through Opus Energy, generating extra revenue for the zoo and contributing to overall grid supply.

Even with growing numbers of prosuming and energy-independent companies, however, there will still be a need for grid-stabilising services provided by large scale generators. Companies perform well when they focus on their core business. Partnering with energy suppliers to help them manage their electricity – including their self-generated power – can make sense. But what increasing levels of distributed renewable energy generation offers is the potential to reduce usage of fossil fuels at a countrywide level.

Coordinating the give and take of this energy across the entire system will take significant effort, but smart technologies and improving storage will help grids and energy-independent companies work together to make the whole system cleaner.

How did we use electricity in the 70s?

Great Britain’s energy mix is arguably in the best place it’s been in modern times. During the second quarter of 2017, 56% of our power came from lower-carbon energy sources. This includes renewable, nuclear and much of the power imported from France. By 2035, it’s projected that the amount of electricity generated by ‘major power producers’ from renewable sources like wind, solar and biomass could more than double from just over 80 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2016 to almost 180 TWh.

There is still a way to go, but the progress we’ve made is remarkable. Great Britain is now ranked seventh among large economies for electricity decarbonisation. It’s even more impressive when you consider where we’ve come from. Just five years ago, 38% of the UK’s electricity was generated from coal. Between April and August 2017, that share slipped to just 1.9%, and in April 2017 Britain went a full 24 hours without using any coal to generate its electricity – the first time this has happened since the Industrial Revolution.

If you look even further back, however, the difference is even more impressive.

Electricity in the 70s

Welcome to 1970s Britain. Striking workers in the power industry have prompted Edward Heath’s Conservative government to put in place the three-day week, limiting commercial use of electricity and putting curfews on television broadcasting. Since then a lot has changed, and this has had a marked effect on how we use electricity.

For one, the UK’s population has grown by nearly 10 million. More than that, the average number of electronic appliances per household has risen from 21 to 50.

In 1970 the average household had 16 lighting appliances, one cold (e.g. fridges and freezers), one wet (e.g. washing machines and dishwashers), one cooking appliance and two consumer electronic devices (e.g. a TV and a power supply unit). In comparison, the average today is 27 lighting, two cold, two wet, 13 consumer electronics, three cooking devices and an additional three home computing devices. The UK household today is far more reliant on electricity and electrical devices – unsurprisingly, this means how much electricity we use has changed.

Total household electricity consumption in 1970 was 2,995 ktoe (thousand tonnes of oil equivalent). In 2015, Britain used nearly double – 6,869 ktoe. And while this is a steep rise, our electricity use is currently on a downward trajectory.

Since peaking in 2007 at more than 8,000 ktoe, domestic electricity use has shrunk thanks to more efficient appliances. For example, an LED light bulb can use as much as 80% less electricity than a traditional incandescent one – and can last 25 times longer.

Our overall energy use (i.e. the sources beyond electricity that we use to fuel things like heating and transport) has also decreased since 1970. Households are using 12% less, while the relative decline of heavy industry and manufacturing in the UK means industry now uses 60% less energy than it did in 1970.

These gains are slightly offset by our growing love of mobility. In 1970, there were around 10 million cars on UK roads. Now there are around 26 million and we also take a lot more flights, which means the transport sector today uses roughly 50% more energy than in 1970.

Cleaning things up

Electricity consumption has changed since the 1970s. That’s no surprise, but what’s more important is the electricity we use is cleaner than it’s ever been. In 1970, we used 57 million tonnes of coal in power generation every year. By 2012 we were using just three million tonnes, and during the last four years coal output has fallen 82%. Instead, our electricity is increasingly coming from natural gas plus renewable and low carbon sources, a trend set to continue.

With the maturation of renewables, the increasing prevalence of smarter technologies and smarter, more efficient electricity grids, our energy system is set to remain in a state of positive change. A lot of progress has been made over the last 40 years – and it’s likely to continue over the next 40.

This is the first in a series on electricity demand through the ages, the second story of which looks at 2018

What will happen to the carbon price after 2020?

Great Britain’s electricity is cleaner than ever. As wind, solar, biomass and hydro continue to make up more and more of our energy mix, the power system edges ever closer to being entirely decarbonised. The GB power system has leapt up the big economies’ low carbon league table from 20th in 2012 to seventh in 2016.

But this shift to lower-carbon power isn’t owed only to growing renewable electricity capacity. A fall in gas prices has helped and importantly, government policy has ensured coal power generation has become increasingly uneconomical vs electricity produced with gas (gas and coal compete for contracts to supply power to the National Grid).

Introduced in 2013, Great Britain’s Carbon Price Floor sets the minimum price on carbon emissions. A stricter policy than the EU’s volatile EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) which puts a much lower price on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the Carbon Price Support as the British policy is also known tops up the EU ETS. Together, they have had a significant impact. According to Aurora Energy Research, the Carbon Price Floor is a major factor in coal generation emissions falling.

In Great Britain, the Carbon Price Floor (CPF) is currently capped at £18 per tonne of CO2 and the EU ETS sits at around £5 t/CO2 – meaning power generators and heavy industry pay around £23 t/CO2 altogether. When initially formulated by the coalition government in 2010, it was intended the CPF would reach £30 per tonne by 2020 and £70 per tonne by 2030. However, the EU ETS has since fallen therefore the UK government chose to cap the carbon price support at £18 per tonne until 2020.

Now, as we reach the end of the decade, questions remain as to what will happen to this crucial mechanism post-2020. Will the government price coal off the system once and for all or will the fossil fuel make an unlikely comeback?

Four visions of carbon pricing’s future

In its research, Aurora has identified four potential future scenarios for the UK’s carbon pricing strategy.

Status Quo: If the UK chooses to continue supporting the phase-out of coal and promotes low-carbon investment, the Carbon Price Floor will steadily increase post-2020, reaching an estimated £52 per tonne by 2040. In this scenario the UK’s carbon pricing structure remains about £18 per tonne higher than the EU ETS which is currently around £5 per tonne.

Catch-up: In the post-Brexit landscape (whatever it may look like) the UK may choose to seek parity with the EU over decarbonisation. In this scenario, the total UK carbon price remains flat with EU ETS, which rises until convergence. In this scenario the UK and EU’s price per tonne of carbon reaches £35 by 2040.

Low Priced Carbon: In the event that the UK government removes the carbon price from 2021 and the EU ETS never recovers beyond its 2017 level, the short-term effects could be a drop in the price of coal power and cheaper energy bills. CO2 emissions increase in the UK as demand for power rises in the late 2020s and beyond (as recently witnessed in the Netherlands where coal generation has increased, in part, due to a low EU ETS). The expected price per tonne of carbon could be as low as £6 by 2040 and investment in lower carbon and renewable forms of power generation stalls.

High Priced Carbon: In order to meet the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets set by the Committee on Climate Change, this scenario sees the electricity system decarbonise more quickly, with coal removed as an energy source. The carbon price rises dramatically over the next two decades to hit £153 per tonne by 2040.

Stopping the coal comeback

Of these four scenarios, the steadily increasing prices of the Status Quo scenario could see the UK meet its power sector target within the fourth carbon budget of 100 g CO2-eq/kWh  – achieving a 51% reduction from 1990 emission levels by 2030. But Aurora found that keeping things as they are could see a radical swing the other way, some years earlier in its scenario: coal could make a comeback in the early 2020s.

In July this year, coal accounted for just 2% of electricity generation in Great Britain and in 2016 as a whole it accounted for 9%, producing the lowest amount of electricity since the start of World War II. Without solid growth of the Carbon Price Floor it could become a much more competitive fuel. This potential is further increased by a predicted rise in natural gas prices post-2020, when the current surplus of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is set to end.

If the government chooses not to set tough prices on carbon emissions, Aurora predicts that on average coal will account for 9% of electricity generation between 2021 and 2025 – a change in the declining coal power trend seen in recent years. A Low Carbon Price future would see coal grow to almost 12% of the total electricity generation mix during the same period.

By contrast, in the High Carbon Price scenario, coal is almost completely driven out of the energy system, accounting for an estimated 2% of electricity generation between 2021 and 2025.

Signalling to the future

What is crucial for British power generators at this stage is clarity beyond 2020, when the £18 per tonne cap ends. This can allow the industry to react to future carbon pricing and prepare for whatever future scenario the government is most likely to adopt.

If the government chooses to continue decarbonising the energy system in a significant way – as it should do – coal facilities can be converted to renewable or lower-carbon units, such as biomass or gas. New interconnectors, renewable sources, storage facilities and demand-side response will also need to be installed at a greater capacity to meet the energy system’s demands.

As the amount of low carbon generation continues to grow, it will increasingly be the marginal generator. This means that power stations such as Drax’s biomass units, which run with an 87% lower carbon footprint compared to coal across their entire supply chain, could be used to meet the last megawatt hour (MWh) of demand – and this would see the carbon price having a diminishing impact on the wholesale price of power.

As has already been shown, the Carbon Price Floor is one of the most effective ways to reduce Great Britain’s electricity emissions. But to continue this impressive progress, the government needs to use it appropriately to set a path towards a decarbonised future.

In October, Drax joined British energy company SSE, climate NGO Sandbag and others to write to Chancellor Philip Hammond, calling on him to back the Carbon Price Floor beyond 2020 and in doing so, provide certainty for businesses investing in lower carbon and renewable capacity. Read the letter here

What is an ‘advantaged’ fuel, and why use them?

Drax Power Station produces 17% of the UK’s renewable electricity, but it has a long history as a coal-fired generator. And while today around 70% of Drax’s output is from renewable biomass, there are still instances when coal is used – for example, at times of high demand, such as in the winter months.

Beyond just meeting demand for power, maintaining some operational coal capacity until it can be replaced with more biomass or gas, also allows Drax to offer flexibility and grid stability through ancillary services such as inertia, reactive power and frequency management.

Ensuring these remaining coal units run as efficiently as possible is key to Drax being able to economically provide support services to the grid. And for this, alongside more conventional coals it uses something termed as advantaged fuels.

What are advantaged fuels?

Advantaged fuels are coals outside of Drax’s conventional specification that are slightly more affordable than standard coals. Blending advantaged fuels with standard coal before burning allows generators to remain economical while meeting demand.

At Drax, these include off-specification coal and mine remnants such as pond fines, which are produced from former deep mine sites . These are offered at lower prices than standard fuels because they often have a lower calorific value, meaning they produce less energy when burned, or are difficult to work with and transport.

The benefit, however, is that power stations are able to ramp up generation as well as provide essential system services while remaining economical.

Getting the balance right

Each time an advantaged fuel is used, the right blend must be found depending on how much and what type is being utilised to ensure maximum efficiency and reliability.

This requires coordination across Drax between the fuel procurement team, aiming to source these lower-priced fuels, the materials handling and power generation teams who must quickly understand and resolve any issues surrounding fuel blends and the trading team, responsible for selling into the power market.

The cost savings achieved from using advantaged fuels combined with the highly efficient units Drax Group operates, helps keep costs down and that means lower electricity costs for everyone.

But this doesn’t mean these fuels will be used for the long term. Drax is continuing to decarbonise its power generation business. At Drax Power Station where three of its six power units have been upgraded to low carbon biomass, trials were underway in the spring and summer of 2017 to test a lower cost way of converting one of the three remaining coal units to run on compressed wood pellets. The Selby, North Yorkshire site is currently consulting with its local community on plans to repower one or two coal units to run on another flexible fuel – natural gas. If constructed, the gas power plant could be joined by a large battery storage facility – one which could provide immediate power and system services to the country’s electricity system while the gas turbines power up in the minutes that follow.

Coal’s days in the UK are numbered – and this is certainly a good thing – but while it remains a necessary part of meeting winter demand and balancing the system, advantaged fuels will be key to keeping it an affordable one too.

Securing reliable and flexible energy this winter

Preparing for winter is one of the UK power system’s biggest challenges. Shorter days and falling temperatures ramp up demand for electricity and gas to power lights and heating across the country. This can put strain on the grid, even leading to blackouts if not carefully managed.

In anticipation of potentially difficult times, National Grid assesses Britain’s winter energy system to determine how much power we’re going to need, and more importantly, to ensure generators can produce enough to meet demand.

In its most recent report looking at winter 2017/18, National Grid’s take is a positive one: there will be enough power to meet demand. More than that, it has the potential to be cleaner than ever before.

What to expect from electricity this winter

In the report, National Grid forecasts a surplus power margin (how much generation capacity will exceed estimated demand) of 10.3% – a significant increase from last year’s 5.7% margin.

What does this mean in real terms? The report predicts a peak electricity demand of nearly 51 GW during the darkest, coldest days of mid-December. By contrast, the total possible capacity of the UK’s energy system during winter is 101.2 GW, not including interconnectors importing power from abroad.

It is important to note, however, that 101.2 GW is more a theoretical number than an expected one. Considering normal occurrences such as planned outages, breakdowns, or other operational issues that prevent power stations generating their usual output, a more accurate estimate is 66.1 GW.

But electricity isn’t the only resource put under strain in the winter months – gas is also in high demand for heating and for electricity generation. In the report, National Grid predicts this winter to have a lower gas demand than last year, owing largely to a decrease in gas-fuelled electricity generation. However, where gas-fired electricity is likely to remain integral is in plugging the gaps in electricity supply left by intermittent renewables.

The system under stress

Weather plays a huge part in both the consumption and generation of power. During the winter, when days are shorter and darker, and the wind calmer, solar and wind cannot generate and feed into the power grid as they normally would.

This means when there are sudden spikes in demand (such as in a cold snap), National Grid must secure other sources to avoid disruption, which can sometimes include carbon-intensive coal, diesel generators, or importing power from Europe.

This growing pressure on the system requires flexible and reliable sources of energy that can quickly react to these sudden surges.

“Biomass is a reliable, flexible renewable and available at scale. It’s able to provide the full range of support services the grid needs to retain stable supplies – whatever the weather,” says Drax Power CEO, Andy Koss.

Drax Power Station’s south cooling towers recycle water and feed it back into the boilers, where 17% of the UK’s renewable electricity is generated

Low-carbon winter energy

The ability to secure sufficient, reliable and lower-carbon power over the winter months is key to the ongoing decarbonisation of the UK. Biomass and gas will play an important role in allowing the country to operate with less dependence on fossil fuels.

We’ve already made significant headway in this field. Last year, Christmas Day was powered by more renewable electricity than ever before, while each quarter of 2017 has seen new clean energy records broken.

As we move into another winter, it’s imperative generators and operators focus on the security of supply. That the stability of our power system will be secured by lower carbon sources is an added – and much needed – bonus.

What’s next for bioenergy?

Morehouse BioEnergy in Louisiana

Discussions about our future are closely entwined with those of our power. Today, when we talk about electricity, we talk about climate change, about new fuels and about the sustainability of new technologies. They’re all inexplicably linked, and all hold uncertainties for the future.

But in preparing for what’s to come, it helps to have an idea of what may be waiting for us. Researchers at universities across the UK, including the University of Manchester and Imperial College London, have put their heads together to think about this question, and together with the Supergen Bioenergy programme they’ve created a unique graphic novel on bioenergy that outlines three potential future scenarios.

Based on their imagined views of the future there’s plenty to be optimistic about, but it could just as easily go south.

Future one: Failure to act on climate change

Dams on river

In the first scenario, our energy use and reliance on non-renewable fuels like oil, coal and gas continues to grow until we miss our window of opportunity to invest in renewable technology and infrastructure while it’s affordable.

Neither the beginning nor the end of the supply chain divert from their current trends – energy providers produce electricity and end users consume it as they always have. Governments continue to pursue growth at all costs and industrial users make no efforts to reverse their own rates of power consumption. In response, electricity generation with fossil fuels ramps up, which leads to several problems.

Attempts to secure a dwindling stock of non-renewable fuels lead to clashes over remaining sources as nations vie for energy security. As resources run out, attempts to put in place renewable alternatives are hampered by a lack of development and investment in the intervening years. The damages caused by climate change accelerate and at the same time, mobility for most people drops as fuel becomes more expensive.

Future two: Growing a stable, centralised bioenergy

Rows of saplings ready for planting

A future of dwindling resources and increasing tension isn’t the only way forward. Bioenergy is likely to play a prominent role in the energy mix of the future. In fact, nearly all scenarios where global temperature rise remains within the two degrees Celsius margin (recommended by the Paris Agreement) rely on widespread bioenergy use with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). But how far could the implementation of bioenergy go?

A second scenario sees governments around the world invest significantly in biomass energy systems which then become major, centralised features in global energy networks. This limits the effects of a warming climate, particularly as CCS technology matures and more carbon can be sequestered safely underground.

This has knock-on effects for the rest of the world. Large tracts of land are turned over to forestry to support the need for biomass, creating new jobs for those involved in managing the working forests. In industry, large-scale CCS systems are installed at sizeable factories and manufacturing plants to limit emissions even further.

Future 3: The right mix bioenergy

Modern house with wind turbine

A third scenario takes a combined approach – one in which technology jumps ahead and consumption is controlled. Instead of relying on a few concentrated hubs of BECCS energy, renewables and bioenergy are woven more intimately around our everyday lives. This relies on the advance of a few key technologies.

Widespread adoption of advanced battery technology sees wind and solar implemented at scale, providing the main source of electricity for cities and other large communities. These communities are also responsible for generating biomass fuel from domestic waste products, which includes wood offcuts from timber that makes up a larger proportion of building materials as wooden buildings grow more common.

Whether future three – or any of the above scenarios – will unfold like this is uncertain. These are just three possible futures from an infinite range of scenarios, but they demonstrate just how wide the range of futures is. It’s up to us all – not just governments but businesses, individuals and academics such as those behind this research project too – to to make the best choices to ensure the future we want.

How quickly will these countries reach their climate targets?

It was no surprise when President Donald Trump echoed his election campaign stance and announced his intention to renegotiate – or failing that withdraw the US – from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It raised the question, would other countries back away from their own climate change targets?

In fact, many reaffirmed their commitment to the pact and continue their progress towards becoming low carbon economies. For those in the European Union, this means meeting the 2030 climate and energy framework, which sets three key targets for member states: cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40% from 1990 levels, produce at least 27% of their energy through renewable sources, and improve energy efficiency by at least 27%.

Many countries across Europe, however, have set climate objectives that go beyond these. Whether they can meet those goals is another matter.


What are its climate targets?

The Portuguese government has pressed the EU to go further than its 2030 targets and is aiming for 40% of total energy consumption to come from renewables by 2030. This target is part of its Green Growth Commitment 2030, which also sets out to create more green – or low carbon economy – jobs and improve overall energy efficiency across the country.

How is it achieving this?

Portugal has rapidly increased its renewable energy production by investing in wind (mainly onshore) and hydro power, although it is rapidly developing its solar capabilities. It is also looking at small scale renewable energy generation through wave, thermal and biomass power.

Portugal has two operational coal plants that together are responsible for 16% of the country’s carbon emissions. However, the government is seeking to phase these out prior to 2025.

How is it doing so far?

The growth in renewable energy within the power industry specifically has been a big success story for Portugal. In 2005, renewables accounted for only 16% of total electricity production – by 2015 they produced an average of 52%.

The country made headlines in May 2016 for running on 100% renewable electricity for four days in a row. Unsurprisingly, this means the government is confident of achieving a target of 31% renewables in gross final energy consumption by 2020, which would mean 57.4% renewable electricity generation.


What are its climate targets?

Germany set its current climate targets as far back as 2007. It subsequently agreed to the Paris Agreement and the EU’s 2014 climate and energy framework.

Added to this, the country has its own ambitious aims for 2050: cut GHG emissions by up to 95% compared to 1990 levels (with an interim target of 40% by 2020), increase the share of renewables in gross final energy consumption to 60%, and increase all electricity generated from renewables to 80%.

How does it plan to achieve this?

Germany’s Climate Action Programme 2020 and Climate Action Plan 2050, set out its plans for reducing GHG emissions. Much of this is based around the Energiewende (energy transition), a strategy that will see the country phase-out nuclear power and decarbonise the economy through renewable energy initiatives.

According to these plans, Germany’s energy supply must be almost completely decarbonised by 2050, with coal power slowly phased out and replaced with renewables, especially wind power. The utilisation of biomass will be limited and sourced mostly from waste. It also stresses the role of the European Union Emission Trading System to meet targets.

How is it doing so far?

Between 1990 and 2015, emissions reduced by 27%. In 2015, the share of renewable sources in German domestic power consumption amounted to 31.6%.

However, German energy-related CO₂ emissions rose almost 1% in 2016, despite a fall in coal use and the ongoing expansion of renewable energy sources. This rise is due in part to an overall increase in energy consumption and an increase in natural gas use and diesel for electricity, heat and transport.

Projections from the environment ministry in September 2016 indicated that Germany will likely miss its 2020 climate target.


What are its climate targets?

Alongside its EU and Paris commitments, the UK Houses of Parliament approved the Climate Change Act in 2008, which commits to reducing GHG emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

The Act requires the government to set legally-binding carbon budgets, a cap on the amount of GHG emitted in the UK over a five-year period. The first five carbon budgets have been put into legislation and will run up to 2032. These include reducing emissions 37% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 57% by 2030.

A key milestone in the UK’s decarbonisation is to entirely phase out coal by 2025, which will mean either closing or converting (as in the case of Drax Power Station) existing coal power stations.

How does it plan to achieve this?

Under its legally binding carbon budget system, every tonne of GHG emitted between now and 2050 will count. Where emissions rise in one sector of the economy (be it agriculture, heavy industry, power, transport, etc.), the UK must achieve corresponding falls in another.

The UK’s initial focus has been to transition to renewable electricity production. Wind, biomass and solar power have all grown significantly, aided by government support, and by initiatives like the carbon price floor.

How is it doing so far?

The UK’s progress towards its targets is positive, but leaves room for improvement. Renewables generated 14.9% of the UK’s electricity in 2013. In 2015 they accounted for nearly a quarter of electricity generation and by 2016, low carbon power sources contributed an average of 40% of the UK’s power, with wind generating more power than coal for the first time ever.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy estimates that as of 2016 GHG emissions fell 42% since 1990. Despite this, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said that the government is not on track to meet its pledge of cutting emissions 80% by 2050.

However, it points out the UK is likely to meet the target of making electricity almost entirely low-carbon by early 2030s, but only if further steps are taken such as including increasing investment in more low-carbon generation (such as biomass), and developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. The UK government is due to publish an emissions reduction plan in the autumn of 2017. 


What are its climate targets?

Norway’s climate policy is based on agreements reached in the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament) in 2008 and 2012. They stipulate a commitment to reduce global GHG emissions by at least 30% by 2020 from 1990 levels. The government also approved the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

As well as signing the Paris Agreement, Norway has aligned itself with the European Union’s climate target and intends to fulfil its commitment collectively with the EU (of which it is not a member state). This means using the EU emissions trading market, international cooperation on emissions reductions, and project-based cooperation.

How does it plan to achieve this?

Around 98% of Norway’s electricity production already comes from renewable energy sources, mostly through its more than 900 hydropower plants. The remainder is through wind and thermal power.

Norway exports hydropower to the Netherlands and exchanges renewable energy with Denmark, Sweden and Finland. There are plans for similar green exchanges with Germany and the United Kingdom via interconnectors within the next five years.

Norway is also aided by a substantial carbon sink in its forests which cover 30% of its land surface. They sequester (absorb and store) carbon from the atmosphere to such an extent that it equals approximately half of the Scandinavian country’s annual emissions.

How is it doing so far?

While Norway already has one of the world’s most carbon neutral electricity sectors, its significant domestic oil and gas sector means it still struggles to reduce its overall emissions. As such, the government is expected to rely on carbon trading with the EU or international offsets to meet its ambitious goals.

Nonetheless, earlier this year the government said that GHG emissions will fall to around 1990 levels by 2020, although it did not stipulate whether this included buying carbon credits from abroad or not.

Why we need the whole country on the same frequency

Electricity frequency

The modern world sits on a volatile, fizzing web of electricity. In 2015 the UK consumed roughly 303 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity, according to government statistics. That’s an awful lot of power humming around and, in this country, we take it for granted that electricity is controlled. This means the power supply coming into your home or place of work is reliable and won’t trip your fuse box. In short, it means your mobile phone will keep on charging and your washing machine will keep on spinning.

But generating and circulating electricity at safe, usable levels is not an easy task. One of the most overlooked aspects of doing this is electrical frequency – and how it’s regulated.

What is electrical frequency?

To understand the importance of frequency, we need to understand a couple of important things about power generation. Generators work by converting the kinetic energy of a spinning turbine into electrical energy. In a steam-driven generator (like those at Drax Power Station), high pressure steam turns a turbine, which turns a rotor mounted inside a stator. Copper wire is wound around the rotor energised with electricity, this turns it into an electromagnet with a north and south pole.

The stator is made up of large, heavy duty copper bars which enclose the rotor. As the rotor turns, its magnetic field passes through the copper bars and induces an electric current which is sent out onto the transmission system.

As the magnetic field has a north and south pole, the copper bars experience a change in direction of the magnetic field each time the rotor turns. This makes the electric current change direction twice per revolution and is called an alternating current (AC). There are in fact three sets of copper bars in the stator, producing three electrical outputs or phases termed red, yellow and blue.

Electrical frequency is the measure of the rate of that oscillation and is measured in the number of changes per second – also called hertz (Hz). A generator running at 3,000 rpm, with two magnetic poles, produces electricity at a frequency of 50Hz.

Turbine Hall at Drax Power Station

Why is this important? 

Maintaining a consistent electrical frequency is important because multiple frequencies cannot operate alongside each other without damaging equipment. This has serious implications when providing electricity at a national scale.

The exact figure is less important than the need to keep frequency stable across all connected systems. In Great Britain, the grid frequency is 50Hz. In the US, it’s 60Hz. In Japan, the western half of the country runs at 60Hz, and the eastern half of the country runs at 50Hz – a string of power stations across the middle of the country steps up and down the frequency of the electricity as it flows between the two grids.

Sticking to one national frequency is a team effort. Every generator in England, Scotland and Wales connected to the high voltage transmission system is synchronised to every other generator.

When the output of any of the three phases – the red, yellow or blue – is at a peak, the output from all other phases of the same colour on every other generating unit in Great Britain is also at a peak. They are all locked together – synchronised – to form a single homogenous supply which provides stability and guaranteed quality.

How is frequency managed?

The problem is, frequency can be difficult to control – if the exact amount of electricity being used is not matched by generation it can affect the frequency of the electricity on the grid.

For example, if there’s more demand for electricity than there is supply, frequency will fall. If there is too much supply, frequency will rise. To make matters more delicate, there’s a very slim margin of error. In Great Britain, anything just 1% above or below the standard 50Hz risks damaging equipment and infrastructure. (See how far the country’s frequency is currently deviating from 50 Hz.)

Managing electrical frequency falls to a country’s high voltage transmission system operator (the National Grid in the UK). The Grid can instruct power generators like Drax to make their generating units automatically respond to changes in frequency. If the frequency rises, the turbine reduces its steam flow. If it falls it will increase, changing the electrical output – a change that needs to happen in seconds.

In the case of generating units at Drax Power Station, the response starts less than a second from the initial frequency deviation. The inertial forces in a spinning generator help slow the rate of frequency change, acting like dampers on car suspension, which minimises large frequency swings.

Frequency on a fast-changing system

Not all power generation technologies are suited for providing high quality frequency response roles and as the UK transitions to a lower-carbon economy, ancillary services such as stabilisation of frequency are becoming more important.

Neither solar nor wind can be as easily controlled. It’s possible to regulate wind output down or hold back wind turbines to enable upward frequency response when there is sufficient wind.

Similarly, solar panels can be switched on and off to simulate frequency response. As solar farms are so widely dispersed and tend to be embedded – meaning they operate outside of the national system, it is not as easy for National Grid to instruct and monitor them. Both wind and solar have no inertia so the all-important damping effect is missing too. Using these intermittent or weather-dependent power generation technologies to help manage frequency can be expensive compared to thermal power stations.

Nor are the current fleet of nuclear reactors flexible – nuclear reactors in Great Britain were designed to run continuously at high loads (known as a baseload power). Although they cannot deliver frequency response services, the country’s nuclear power stations do provide inertia.

UK plug on blue wall

Twenty times faster

Thermal power generation technologies such as renewable biomass or fossil fuels such as coal and gas are ideal for frequency response services at scale, because they can be easily dialled up or down. As both the fuel supply to their boilers and steam within their turbines can be regulated, the 645 MW thermal power units at Drax have the capability to respond to the grid’s needs in as little as half a second or less, complete their change in output in under one second and maintain their response for many minutes or even hours.

Before the introduction of high volumes of wind and solar generation almost all generators (excluding nuclear) running on the system could provide frequency response. As these generators are increasingly replaced by intermittent technologies, the system operator must look for new services to maintain system stability.

An example is National Grid’s recent Enhanced Frequency Response tender, which asked for a solution that can deliver frequency stabilisation in under a second – 20 times faster than the Primary Response provided by existing thermal power stations. Drax was the only participating thermal power station, however all contracts were all won by battery storage projects.

Frequency future

Given the decline in fossil fuel generation and uncertainty around our power makeup in future decades, National Grid is consulting on how best to source services such as frequency response. The ideal scenario for National Grid is one where services can be increasingly sourced from reliable, flexible and affordable forms of low carbon generation or demand response.

The next generation of nuclear power stations, as with some already operating in France, can provide frequency response services. However the first of the new crop, Hinkley C, is around a decade away from being operational. Likewise, solar or wind coupled with battery, molten salt or flywheel storage will provide an increasing level of flexibility in the decades ahead as storage costs come down.

Thanks to power generation at Drax with compressed wood pellets, a form of sustainable biomass, Britain has already begun moving into an era where lower carbon frequency response can begin to form the foundation of a more reliable and cleaner system.

This story is part of a series on the lesser-known electricity markets within the areas of balancing services, system support services and ancillary services. Read more about black startsystem inertiareserve power and reactive power.  View a summary at The great balancing act: what it takes to keep the power grid stable and find out what lies ahead by reading Balancing for the renewable future and Maintaining electricity grid stability during rapid decarbonisation.