The United Kingdom is more known for cloudy days than sunny ones, and it offers a stark contrast to the sunny days experienced in the US southwest. Yet the country sourced more of its power from solar panels than coal for the past six months, without any major grid disruptions. It’s the latest in series of records that are showing more and more that solar can be implemented on a massive scale without causing major impacts to the grid.
The latest news comes from a Carbon Brief analysis. The organization reported the results were an accumulation of events that began April 9, which was the first day when solar provided more of the nation’s power than coal did (In fact, that day was also the first time—since 1882!—that coal didn’t provide any electricity to the country’s grid). Then May became the first ever month when solar power outpaced coal power. Then the period between June and September became the first time solar power outpaced coal power in the nation. Now, in early October, the Carbon Brief said it’s the first half year where this trend has continued.
“These firsts reflect the changing face of UK electricity supplies, with solar capacity having nearly doubled during 2015,” wrote Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans. Indeed the UK had roughly 6 gigawatts of solar power at the beginning of 2015 and 15 at the end. “They also reflect historic lows for coal-fired generation, driven by changes in wholesale energy markets and the carbon price floor.”
During the period discussed (April to September 2016) solar power provided 6,964 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity to the UK grid, providing 5.2 percent of the nation’s electric demand. During that period coal provided 6,342 GWh of electricity, providing 4.7 percent of the nation’s electric demand, nearly 10 percent lower than solar power, according to Carbon Brief.
“The drop in coal output has come about because of wholesale energy market price shifts being more favorable to gas-fired generators than to coal. In addition, the UK’s carbon floor price doubled in April 2015, again shifting the economics of electricity generation in favor of gas over coal,” Evans said. “Given these price changes, and the government’s stated intention to phase out all unabated coal by 2025, three coal-fired power stations took the decision to close this spring.”
Meanwhile, reports from across the world are showing interesting new records for solar power. In Chile, for instance, there was a period when the government was paying people to use the excess energy from solar power. Moreover, both Germany and Portugal reported at different times this spring that all of their electric generation came from renewables on certain days and last year Denmark produced 140 percent of its electric needs largely from wind power.
All of this is showing that higher penetrations of renewable energy are possible in the US as well. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other organizations have introduced studies showing that the US could cost-effectively source significantly more—in one NREL study, up to 75 percent of its electricity, from renewables by 2030.Tweet