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U.K. Grid Struggles as Renewables Overtake Fossil Fuels

Rachel Morison

(Bloomberg) -- Renewables supplied more than 40% of electricity during first quarter of 2020, overtaking fossil fuels as storms battered the U.K.

Output from wind farms was up by 40% compared with the first three months of 2019 as severe storms meant Britain experienced the wettest and windiest February on record, according to the Electric Insights report, commissioned by Drax Group Plc and researched by a team of independent academics from Imperial College in London.

Making sure the grid isn’t overloaded by wind and solar is a challenge for National Grid Plc but a drop in demand caused by lockdown measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has made it more difficult. The grid operator asked for emergency powers to switch off renewable generators if needed to limit supply.

“Having flexibility within the power system at these critical moments is crucial to keeping Britain’s lights on,” said Iain Staffell, author of the report published Thursday.

Britain’s wind farms ran at record-high capacity factors in February, averaging 50% for onshore and 60% for offshore wind farms. This is significantly higher than fossil-fueled power stations, with gas running 34% of the time and 17% for coal, according to the report.

Drax owns and operates a portfolio of flexible, low carbon and renewable electricity generation assets across Britain. These include the U.K.’s largest power station, based in Selby, North Yorkshire, which supplies 5% of the country’s electricity needs. Having converted two thirds of its power stations to use sustainable biomass instead of coal, Drax has become the nation’s biggest renewable power generator.

(Adds capacity factors in fifth paragraph)

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