The UK has closed two of its coal-fired power stations this past week, which have yielded financial losses for two consecutive years.The move by the government has been commended by RWE’s chief executive Paul Massara, who stated: “The phase out of coal-fired power stations in the UK is a good thing, for a number of reasons. Coal hasn’t been paying its way for some time now, notably in terms of its impact on air pollution and the climate.
“The targets we face for keeping levels of global warming within ‘safe’ levels also mean that coal, as the most polluting of all fossil fuels, has to go as quickly as possible, not just here but across Europe.”
He added that the phasing out of coal-fired power stations would make investment in new generation such as renewables and gas, accompanied by battery technology more attractive.
Massara added, “Investors need long term clarity on policy, and they simply have not been getting it.”
Also commenting on the UK’s energy transition was Michael Grubb, Professor of energy and climate change policy at University College London, who highlighted the need to manage demand to ensure that there is no resulting shortage of power.
[quote] He said: “To understand the real situation, it is important to note there is no shortage of physical generating plant – it is about how much is closed down, and what options we have to deal with any resulting gap,” he said.
“The further potential for managing demand has not been fully explored, and experience so far indicates that securing future backup capacity is costing less than many expected.”
Leveraging variable generation
Variable energy resources have the potential “to be as secure as those based on traditional forms of generation,” said Andrew Garrad, a senior consultant at energy risk management company DNV GL Energy.
He added that other European countries such as Denmark and Germany have reliable power systems - evidence that high levels of variable renewable energy can be as secure as traditional sources of electricity generation.
According to Garrad: “In recent weeks National Grid, Energy UK and the National Infrastructure Commission have all said that low-carbon, flexible, decentralised grids are the future and they’re entirely correct.
“We’re in a transitional phase at the moment but sticking with the programme will get us to a flexible, low-cost, market-based, mostly subsidy-free energy system.”