Kill coal renewables

Last month Britain passed a significant landmark – going two full months without burning coal to generate power. head of sustainable energy, Darren Edwards, discusses the impact this is having on renewables and the upcoming challenges for the sector. As coal-fired power stations are due to be phased out by 2025, it is extremely positive to hear the news that Britain has gone through a two-month period without burning coal to generate power. Covid-19 has seen the demand for electricity significantly reduced both in the UK and across the globe. As businesses, factories and industrial sites shut down, coal-fired power stations were quick to follow.

So, will coronavirus kill off coal altogether? It’s a question that we don’t yet know the answer to but my guess is that it won’t as there is still not enough alternative power generation available when demand returns to pre Covid levels. However, the way the world reacts going forward will determine how the energy markets react and ultimately when coal-fired power stations are re-opened. Many businesses are now making decisions which could see working from home become the ‘new normal’ and might result in coal sitting dormant for longer.

As reliance on renewable technology grows, it creates challenges for both the grid and the sector as a whole. Renewables create energy from elements out of our control, such as when the sun shines, when wind blows and when water flows. This uncertainty is seeing Fisher German become involved in a growing number of non-generation projects which are increasingly important to the grid. They help manage and support the grid, ensuring that there is sufficient energy as and when people need it. At Fisher German it has established an opportunity for us to help create and build stabilising projects such as battery storage systems which absorb electricity when it is in surplus and distribute it back into the network when required.

We are also working on an increasing number of reactive power projects which can compensate for a lack of electricity on the grid. An example of this is gas generator schemes, which can be switched on at very short notice to compensate for shortfalls. The growing emphasis in the need for renewables has also seen us become involved in inertia and dynamic voltage support projects which help create a stable grid. National Grid pushes electricity around the country at 50Hz and generating electricity through renewables can cause frequency issues.

Inertia projects typically absorb these spikes in frequency, helping to create a stable grid and reduce the number of power cuts. So, although coal-fired power stations may eventually be re-opened in the short term, their phasing out in the medium term means that renewable energy will become more important than ever and we expect to see an increasing number of reactive power, balancing schemes and zero-output projects in the long term to support the grid network going forward.

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