UK Electricity Supply, Christmas 2014

On Christmas Day, children began opening their presents at around 05:00 am in the UK. As the excitement gathered pace, the country’s coal power stations were fired up providing 38% of all the electricity consumed. Nuclear hummed along all day providing a steady 8 GW and 26% of the total. Clean burning natural gas was demoted to third place providing just 14% of the total whilst providing a significant share of the load balancing service. Coal, nuclear and natural gas combined provided 78% of UK electricity on Christmas Day.

Figure 1 UK generation sources, Christmas Day 2014. Data from BM reports via Gridwatch.

The day began quite windy providing about 4.5 GW at the watch night hour but the wind declined steadily as the day progressed to a measly 0.7 GW come bed time as the country enjoyed clear, calm frosty weather. It was a beautiful day here in Aberdeen. Wind provided 8% of the day’s total matched by imports that ran at a steady 2.3 GW for most of the day.

Figure 2 UK electricity generation share, Christmas Day 2014.

I was surprised to see coal so dominant in the market and I am unsure if these numbers reflect pure market forces or whether there may be a gas conservation strategy in play. The imports would undoubtedly be cheap with European industry closed down for the holidays and surplus French nuclear power in abundance. With little wind and an abundance of coal on the UK grid, Christmas Day 2014 can be held up as a shining example of failed UK energy policy.

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37 Responses to UK Electricity Supply, Christmas 2014

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Ed, there’s a lot of interesting stuff on your web site. The main critique I’d have on the article comparing wind to gas is that wind runs fuel free once installed, which of course gas doe not do. But there’s a lot of interesting charts in there!

  1. Paul says:

    In what sense was it a failure? Because energy policy didn’t stop the wind from dropping? It seems as if the wind dropped and nobody noticed. Hard to see that as a failure.

    • coal, coal, coal, smoke, smoke, smoke, Climate Disruption, Climate Disruption, Climate Disruption, nukular, nukular, nukular, no solar, no solar, no solar, contrast with Germany, contrast with Germany, contrast with Germany

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Here’s one of the charts linked by Ed Hoskins for Germany.

        Loads of coal, no solar and renewable production barely covers lost nuclear in CO2 budget.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      An energy policy based solely around reducing CO2 emissions is failure in itself. But let me turn this around, in what way could production data like this be viewed as success?

      • Paul says:

        a) wind dropped, wind energy production collapsed, lights stayed on => success (expected behaviour).

        b) wind dropped, wind energy production collapsed, lights went off => failure.

        c) wind dropped, wind energy production remained high => miracle.

        The transition to renewable energy sources is not a 5 year project but a generational undertaking. It seems premature to declare failure after a few years because the wind dropped over Christmas. It is well known that such periods in which wind and solar are unavailable are a key challenge to the transition. That challenge can be addressed gradually while we remain secure in still having conventional resources to cover the gap.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Paul, we are clearly looking at this issue from very different perspectives. You have already decided that an energy transition to renewables on a generational time scale has been undertaken. I believe the whole project will fall on its face very soon based on what I know about past energy transitions. They have always gone towards superior energy sources and the only one left for us in terms of energy density and capacity is nuclear power.

          Its quite clear that parasitic wind can exist on the current grid for so long as FF plant is there to balance it and to back it up. But why should we have this parasite there in the first place? If we had no wind power on 25 Dec 2014 on the UK grid no one would have noticed? Well in fact as Joe points out we may have had cheaper electricity which is important for many pensioners. And we may have had more profitable utilities – which is also important for many pensioners, though many don’t realise this.

          • Paul says:

            Well I think electricity generation and energy use in general *should* be transformed, with emphasis on energy saving and efficiency, high minimum energy standards for new build and for rented accommodation, public transport infrastructure and cycling priority, changes to the tax system to encourage efficient resource use (e.g. abolish employers and employees NI and replace it with taxation of carbon emissions and other pollutants). For electricity generation, distribution and storage I’d prefer to let a significant carbon tax even the playing field than to pick technology winners (although obviously in that I’m picking low carbon tech). Wind plays a part in that (at 8% already quite a big part), as might nuclear if it can get its costs under control (including perhaps pre-paying for decommissioning, currently expected to cost the taxpayer well over £60bn for existing plant, I think). So probably will batteries and other storage.

            The figure of £45bn quoted elsewhere seems, according to the report, not to be entirely for renewables and without a detailed breakdown is difficult to interpret. It seems to include, for example, £300m for a turbine blade and assembly factory and maybe other similar things. Is such investment “bad” for some reason? The negative aspect of that £45bn (or whatever part of it you dislike) is arguably the opportunity cost (i.e. the money could have been spent more profitably on something else) but that is theoretical, not actual. In a world of constrained demand, opportunity is not obviously abundant.

            As for German spending on renewables, my understanding is that it is a popular policy. Nuclear on the other hand is not. The objection to nuclear may not seem sensible but it is real. Whether the Energiewende has been a “failure” is for Germans to decide. But it has at the very least created a worldwide solar industry that is, in sunny places, now competitive with FF. Is that a failure?

            Someone said that renewable policy is a failure because of the additional costs. By that measure any policy that builds anything but the very cheapest (coal presumably) is a failure, including a pro-nuclear policy.

          • roberto says:


            “(including perhaps pre-paying for decommissioning, currently expected to cost the taxpayer well over £60bn for existing plant, I think).”

            The inclusion of the decommissioning costs is what’s already done in practically every nuclear country!… on the other hand it is easy to calculate the additional costs to add on the electricity bills… it’s A SMALL FRACTION of the feed-in “incentives” of renewables… just think of the case of Germany… more than 11 billion Euros/year for 20 years in a row just for PV… which generates the equivalent electricity of 4 GW electric… in a matter of 1/3 of the feed-in period (20 years, I repeat) the 60 billions you mentions are spent… and there are more than 100 billion more to go… for a misery like this…


            … just change the date… any day in the last 30 days, or for the NEXT 30-60 days for that matter… power peaks of 4-5 GW, out of more than 37 GWp installed… by which measure one could reasonably call this a success?… because it has created employment in China, where more than 2/3 of the modules/panels are made nowadays? … made using electricity generated 75% via fossil fuels, the vast majority dirty chinese coal full of sulfur???
            It’s a giant scam. Nothing else.


          • Paul says:

            Hinkley C is the first to use the UK’s Funded Decommissioning Program – good to know they are thinking ahead. Other countries are not really relevant, but is it likely that China has such a scheme?

            It seems unlikely that the £60bn (and rising) for UK nuclear decommissioning is really a fraction of the feed in incentives for UK renewables. More likely the reverse. The German situation is different and for the Germans to argue over. Neither country has figured out what to do with nuclear waste in the long term, so the costs of that are still to come.

            Maybe it just comes down to language, but I still can’t reconcile solar panels and wind turbines not producing electricity when there is no sun or wind respectively as a “failure”. Look at the solar charts in the summer and the peak value is over 20GW. That’s what they do – when the sun shines they produce electricity. That is what they were designed to do, that is what their owners expect them to do. Saying it is a failure when in mid winter they don’t produce much is like saying your car failed because it ran out of petrol.

        • Graeme No.3 says:

          renewables failed while conventional kept going. What are you trying to say? That we need more renewables so we get blackouts?

        • Leo Smith says:

          Tell me why we need renewables when they are more expensive and more environmentally damaging and more carbon intensive than nuclear power?

          And we have had years of renewables – time to stop apologising for their lack of performance and telling us they will work out OK in the end and start – apologising for their lack of performance and scrapping them instead

        • Roberto says:

          Maybe 23.5 BILLION EUROS spent in ‘incentives’ for renewables in Germany in 2014 and resulting in this may better explain the concept of failure?
          It’s written Energiewende, but it’s spelled R E C O R D L I G N I T E C O N S U M P T I O N.

          If this is not a failure I don’t know what it is.


          • Mkelley says:

            This sure sound like failure to me:

            –Germany is forcing Vattenfall to shutter its nuclear power stations, while at the same time pleading with the company to expand its coal mining operations.

            These inconsistencies in German energy policy are happening because green energy is expensive and unreliable. Domestic energy bills in Germany are 50 percent higher than the European Union average. Higher energy prices have negative effects on the rest of the economy. These consequences are especially pronounced for economies, such as Germany’s, that rely on manufacturing.–


        • Graeme No.3 says:

          1. if the german solar industry is such a success, why are the companies going bankrupt?
          2. if renewables are competitive with FF why do they need subsidies? (and please don’t trot out the old garbage that FF are subsidised for poles, railways etc.)
          3. If the Energiewende is such a success, why are german CO2 emissions rising, and why should anybody (sane) copy it?

    • Joe Public says:

      It’s a failure simply because of the additional unnecessary costs borne by every electricity user, all industry and all commerce.

  2. All quiet on the grid yesterday. Y’all must have taken the day off. 😉

    It does look like they might be hoarding gas.

    What is “other”? Drax?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      “Other” might be “hot air”, definitely some chicken and turkey shit in there, and perhaps virgin US hardwood forest with baby squirrels burned in Drax, affectionately known to Greens as biomass 🙁

    • Leo Smith says:

      Largely its biomass burners. Drax got shirty with me when their biomass was shown as coal so I told em to revise their reporting with BM reports, so now wood burners are ‘other’


      Apropos of nothing, I have always felt that actually the country would be a richer and better place if about 50%+ of the populations – especially those in the public sector – were paid to stay at home, and not paid to get in the way of everyone else.

      No road congestion, seats available on railways, energy consumption 20% less or greater, and happier people.

      The 21st century is possibly the one if we get the politics right, where we say ‘who needs work’

      To the Left, its only a way to redistribute wealth and make people feel engaged with society. Allegedly. I say that most people would gladly take the money, stay ant home and disengage from society altogether.

      • I have always felt that actually the country would be a richer and better place if about 50%+ of the populations – especially those in the public sector – were paid to stay at home.

        Whenever a snowstorm hits Washington DC non-essential government workers, of whom there are many, are told to stay home. Maybe the UK needs more snowstorms.

  3. A C Osborn says:

    Isn’t it odd how Paul sees an investment of £45Billion in renewables just since 2010 to produce only 8% of our Electricity as a “Success”.
    To any business person it would be an unmitigated disaster, oh I forgot it is not a disaster, it is a brilliant investment because the Tax Payers are having to pay for it whether they want to or not.

    This could only happen and be acceptable in the topsy turvy “Green” world.

  4. Mark Miller says:


    Thanks for the graphs on how the UK keep the grid up on Christmas Day. A lot of coal fired generation was used (selected?) to keep your grid up yesterday (maybe the UK is saving some natural gas for HVAC uses this winter). Your questioning the loading order seems appropriate!

    I haven’t looked into how the UK is planning on implementing efforts to decarbonize the UK economy as denoted in this rather recent, to me, report- “Pathways to Deep DeCarbonization”
    The nuts and bolts of how the UK implements changes to the loading order will be interesting to see over the next decade.

    The natural, and in my case some manmade as well, biomass sequestration in my area is about to slow down dramatically as we are getting ready for some rather cold temperatures. I am going to collect a bunch of the roses from our gardens this morning as the buds aren’t going to make it through another night of sub-freezing temperatures.

    One would think it odd to be harvesting spring bulb flowers at this time of the year, but it’s been a normal occurrence for my specific microclimate for a decade- maybe more……

    Merry Christmas and have an enjoyable New Year.

  5. Hickory says:

    Time to downsize Europe. Population overshoot bigtime.
    No more opium wars, No more Africas to colonize, No more Americas to steal.
    No more fossil fuel to import.

  6. John Williams says:

    As a lay person regularly reading your blog, I usually find I have little of any consequence to add to the raging debates I read — however I do congratulate you on the level of those debates. My perspective comes from living in the Scottish Borders, where the current policy creates some of the greatest pressures on the environment.

    We have multiple wind farms, with others under construction the whole time. We see them idle on still days, idle when constrained off on windy days — and have to accept the industrialisation of our remote hills with concrete, tracks and vast turbines.

    What all of you should remember when discussing current policy is to remember that it is only partially complete. Scottish operational wind farms capacity is about 7.1GW. Consented, not yet constructed wind farms will double the current capacity with a further 8.68GW. — can the system stand this? Applications in the planning system (4.36GW) could be nearly as large as the capacity already consented — in total this could add up to roughly 20GW.

    We fight this policy mostly on the grounds that it will ruin our local landscapes — not to mention those of the rest of Scotland and parts of the rest of the UK. But you are highlighting another aspect we are increasingly looking at — which is what on earth is the final system going to look like as a supposedly coherent grid? And what will the cost be in terms of subsidies to the wind farms, subsidies to constrain them off, and subsidies to conventional generation to ensure the lights do not go out? You have highlighted some of this with your blogs on the collapse of the price of oil — Scottish Ministers are of course blind to their spectacular failure to predict the prices of conventional fuels. Not that I think anyone else would do any better — markets are inherently unpredictable over the long term.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      John, I think the scaling issue is very important and currently ignored. The hydro electric adventure in Scotland was epic, but eventually had push back after so many valleys were damned. Wind is carpeting our landscape with unknown human, environmental and economic (tourism) consequences. I’m not sure what sort of Scottish patriot advocates the destruction of Scotland in what name?

    • Leo Smith says:

      what on earth is the final system going to look like as a supposedly coherent grid?

      The phrase you are looking or is ” a right buggers’ muddle” (with apologies to those of the gay persuasion).

  7. cgh says:

    A few points to note. The import numbers are all nuclear from France. Britain imports about 20 TWh per year from France, enough to fully occupy two large reactors full time. And it has been importing this scale of French nuclear power since the early 1990s.

    It’s also worth noting that the imports do not tail off on a 24 hour basis but like domestic nuclear are essentially base load. It’s an unusual situation to say the least when imports are less expensive than domestic electricity production. That alone demonstrates a policy failure, and one of long standing in Britain.

    Because of the demonstrated tail-off of wind during the afternoon, it shows pretty convincingly the inability of wind to function as baseload.

    Also, the greens are fond of saying that hydro can be used as backup for wind. Alternatively they say that gas is the backup, but the above chart gives both those claims the lie. Britain is completely tapped out for hydro for all practical purposes. Gas in fact tails off from late afternoon on at the same time that wind is tailing off. What picks up the load is coal.

    And that’s not good for the coal-fired stations. Varying power levels greatly at thermal plants adds significantly to maintenance costs from a high level of thermal cycles.

    What’s also interesting here is the maximum 5000 MW supplied by wind. The British have spent 45 billion pounds building their wind system. That same investment would have purchased between four and six nuclear reactors, providing between 4,000-6,000 MW and at least four to five times as much actual energy.

    So yes, this chart portrays a massive energy policy failure over the past 15 years or so. In the early 1990s Britain banked on gas as its major supply for electricity for the future. That’s now disappearing as North Sea gas supply dwindles. And wind is manifestly incapable of filling the void.

    So with coal its back to the future for Britain. And that’s the way it will remain unless Britain can get nuclear power plants built more expeditiously than in France or Finland.

  8. Coal imports have been cheap for GB since Q4 2011; US pull back due to cheap extra (shale+conventional) Gas. Thus our coal plant went to base load and the Low Combustion Plant Directive Opted out stations (KIngsnorth, Didcot A etc) burned off their hours and shut down 2+ years before the end 2015 deadline. Hence our Peak margins tighten and we have a bit of a capacity panic. A lot of new CCGTs are consented but not building at a significant rate due to uncertainty over likely Load factor. Germany nearly mothballed one of the newest and most efficient CCGTs (Irsching).

    World Coal burn rockets to a new level @9bntpa although how long China will keep up the ‘big dig’ (4+bntpa) is debatable. Need to hit their inefficient use of coal fast (Poss Gasification and CCHP) being the biggest CO2 emission lump of any one country).

    Note that the GB demand drops over Christmas; the critical periods are the weekday evening Peaks in the normal weeks November through March if the temperature drops significantly.

    Ireland has the highest proportion of wind on any single major AC system (@6.6GW Peak) They have to hold max non synchronous input (Wind Gen + Imports) to be no more than 50% of total infeed (Generation+Imports-Exports). This ensures adequate inertial injection for a system loss or electrical fault incident to avoid nasty frequency excursions. They have mainly been importing from us during the day then we pull back the interconnectors, sometimes as far as to allow them to export overnight. We then flex the European Interconnectors to assist both GB and Ireland. GB Peak Demand @54GW.

    Germany (Peak @70GW) is in the middle of the vast European 380GW Peak AC system. Thus their renewables fluctuation can be partly compensated by the neighbours as well as flexible coal and Gas. There are also big DC interconnectors to the huge Norwegian Hydro ‘Battery’ whicj=h also buffers Denmark’s renewables and (when must run) CHP…. (Norway Peak @50GW, Denmark @3.5GW).

    However, getting the whole of the European Central system on large scale renewables is a much larger issue than just one member state, however large. Thus Portugal has also gone for large scales renewables; together with Spain they have significant Hydro which is useful as the AC connection to France (puts them in the big EU CE system as well) is only 1.8GW.

    Tip of the iceberg that lot.

    Happy New Year


  9. Mark Miller says:


    I happened to notice that the Ivanhoe Thermal PV facility sited in the desert in CA provided 220 MU of electricity to the CASIO grid during the late afternoon and evening yesterday (1700 hours through 2100 hours). This is the first time I have seen the facility providing energy to the grid at these time frames.
    See 01/02/15 output data

    The owners of the facility (NRG, Google) are likely pleased this morning. It will be interesting to see how they were able to accomplish feeding the CASIO grid for as many hours as they did yesterday after the sun went down.

    Keeping track of the value of the MU’s during partial peak hours via the Time of Delivery (TOD) factors in their PPA’s with PG&E and SCE seems like an interesting exercise as well.

    As some other generation facility wasn’t used to keep the grid up I wonder if one can figure out what generation source(s) didn’t make it into the actual loading order yesterday afternoon/early evening. Hopefully, those other sources of generation weren’t in standby mode releasing some/lots of CO2 without providing any useful energy to accomplish some work.

    Happy New Year

    • ste says:

      Hi Mark,

      I’m a little curious as I cant see Thermal Storage in the spec for Ivanpah (392MW gross) but at least one of the CSPs was certainly holding output over 200MW into the evening (down from 600+ in the daylight period)

      I see Gila Bend (280MW) is listed with 6 hours thermal storage but that is in Arizona.

      Spain seems to have a number of larger CSPs with storage and I thought they had mandated it for installations of a certain size. However, when I checked the quite long list of 50MW projects they didn’t seem to have it specified.

  10. PS
    Solar Reserve has commissioned a CSP with storage in Nevada (110MW) and has a similar 150MW project under development at Rice, near Blythe, California.

    I still cant see thermal storage listed on the big California CSPs (Ivanpah, Genesis, SEGS, Mohave – the latter just commissioning)

    The oldest installation is SEGS – sections I through IX, total 354MW.
    SEGS I was started in 1985, 14MW and had thermal storage which caught fire and was never repaired….

    The CAISO master Generation list just shows the above stations so Gila Bend, with its storage, is not in their Control Area. So I wonder what is going on with the metering?.

  11. John was looking at GB capacity above and we had comments on I/Cs

    Registered with Nat Grid currently (Transmission Connected and Significant Embedded)

    Built Conventional plant (Thermal + Hydro) @67GW Wind 8.4GW

    Constructing are a 0.9GW CCGt and 0.4GW Wind

    7.2GW CCGT 3.4GW Nuc (Hinkley B) 11.6GW wind and 0.1GW of Wave/Tidal

    Awaiting Consents
    11.3GW CCGT+IGCC @16GW WInd 1.7GW Wave/Tidal

    @50GW under scoping inc 20.8GW Nuc and 24.8GW Wind – we have a lot of developments about……

    However, a lot of the consented CCGTs have been in that state for a while and only Pembroke (reclassed as CHP) and Carrington have gone to construction. Developers are concerned about adequate income if they cant get a reasonable load factor.

    A new 1GW French connection has applied for consents but the other 7.2GW are Scoping (Belgium, France*2 more, Norway, Denmark).

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