ELECTRICITY consumers may or may not have noticed the April 29 announcement by the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) that the record, at more than 18 days, had been broken for the longest period since the Victorian era when no coal was burnt in Great Britain, and that they were hopeful this new record would continue to increase in the forthcoming days.

It is also worth noting that the UK Government has recently brought forward the deadline by one year to 2024 for phasing out of coal generation.

This may give the impression that renewables are inexorably, seamlessly and dependably replacing fossil fuel-based electricity supplies within the UK Grid. This is not the case.

ESO failed to mention that the UK significantly ran rarely-used old Open Cycle Gas Turbines (OCGTs) on April 28, presumably to meet demand. These are much less efficient, much more expensive to operate, and, with the waste gases directly exhausted, release much more heat energy and carbon dioxide to the environment than the Combined Cycle Gas Turbines they were supplementing.

This was presumably to avoid burning coal whilst seeking to maximise a “no coal” record. OCGTs are normally only used, rarely if at all, in winter when both demand and electricity prices are much higher; otherwise they are uneconomic.

The UK experienced a very mild and calm week during the “record” period which, coupled with Covid-19, had reduced UK electricity demand to around 18 per cent below seasonal average. Wind generation, however, had coincidently virtually collapsed across the UK.

In spite of this reduced demand, we were throughout the week dependent upon imported power reaching from Land’s End to Orkney via our three interconnectors to mainland Europe, supplying around and up to their maximum capability of 4000MW to keep our lights on and hospitals supplied; this being equivalent to more than three Torness power stations.

In a random check I made, Scotland was importing more than 1200MW, equivalent to a second Torness to keep our becalmed country functioning.

ESO failed to mention that much of this imported power is coal-generated, so at no time during this “record setting” was the UK electrical power coal-free .

Coal generation in electricity from the Netherlands is around 15 per cent and Germany around 30 per cent and above, which will rise when they start new large-capacity generation this year. Germany is also a major exporter to both the Netherlands and France, so the French exports to the UK include both nuclear and coal generation.

This is comparable to us loudly and self- righteously surrendering our cars in support of “Net Zero” but quietly continuing to borrow our neighbour’s as required

Is seeking “records” seriously tackling emissions? No. Have renewables failed us during an unprecedented crisis? Yes.

Bombast from the ESO? Let’s all make our own judgement.

D.B. Watson, Cumbernauld.