Heatwave – the ice cream effect

The recent UK heatwave made for some surprising headlines

As parts of the UK hit record temperatures in June, July and early August 2018, energy suppliers were faced with a number of interesting challenges.

Although possibly surprising to consumers, a dramatic increase in electricity demand raised fewer eyebrows amongst suppliers and academics. But it still posed the question of how to fulfil the extra 860MW, reported by Imperial College, for Drax during the last week of June.

As air conditioners were set to ‘maximum’, ice makers and ice cream coolers worked overtime and electric fans dusted-off to help cool the population as it faced temperatures of 30°C and above. 

The increase in demand to meet cooling needs was described by Imperial College as a global energy system ‘blind spot’, with National Grid predicting a three-fold increase in peak load from air conditioners over the next decade.

By mid-July, when temperatures were at their hottest, average wholesale energy prices (TRGBBD1) were averaging £56/MWh – around 40% higher than the same period in 2017 according to Reuters.

The rise in demand, Drax equating it to an extra 2.5m households, put greater pressure on prices than the cold snap – named ‘The Beast from the East’ – in February this year, which saw a 30% average wholesale price rise and most of the supply pressure being placed on the gas sector. 


Sun but no wind

The supply questions asked by heatwave were answered by the sun itself, with solar power at one stage providing close to 17% of the UK’s electricity. 

However, as the sun shone, it wasn’t just water supplies that began to run low.  A ‘wind drought’ was also reported, with a 40% drop in turbine generation compared to July 2017. Despite an increase in turbine infrastructure across the UK over the 12-month period, turbines were idle as the jet-stream moved North, leaving a large area of high pressure across the UK.


Coal on the decline

Although the balance of renewable energy may tip according to the weather conditions, another Imperial College/Drax report made it clear that coal-based energy is “edging closer to extinction in Britain” over the summer months.

According to the statistics, during Q2 2018 coal power stations were not running for 812 hours.  This equates to 37% of the period and were as many coal-free hours in that quarter alone as in the whole of 2016/17 combined. 

According to the report, most of the May and June coal-based output was only used to provided system stability rather than bulk energy, leading to the conclusion that Britain could run entirely without coal for the whole of the summer period in the future.