Biomass electricity production sets record in Britain for 2019

By Erin Voegele | February 26, 2020

Biomass electricity production set a new record in the U.K. last year, according to the fourth quarter 2019 Electrical Insights Report, produced by researchers at Imperial College London in collaboration with Drax. Record highs were also reported for wind and solar electricity production, while electricity from nuclear fell to its lowest output recorded for this century. Electricity production from coal fell to a new low of 2 percent. The report indicates 2019 was also the first year where Britain’s electricity averaged below 200 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour (kWh).

“In the past decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in Britain’s power system, which has transformed at a speed never seen before,” said Iain Staffell of Imperial College London and lead author of the report.

“Several factors made significant contributions to falling emissions including carbon prices, coal retirements, conversions to biomass and the growth in wind capacity,” Staffell continued. “But reductions in electricity demand dwarfed all the others—helping to push down power prices and environmental impacts.

“If this pace of change can be maintained, renewables could provide more than half Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and the power system could be practically carbon free,” he said.

According to the report, biomass provided a bigger reduction in emissions and the wholesale power prices than solar power, relative to the size of its installed capacity.

“Replacing coal with sustainable biomass at Drax has cut our carbon emissions by more than 80 percent, transforming the business to become the largest renewable power generator in the U.K., accelerating decarbonization over the decade as well as supporting lower wholesale power prices,” said Andy Koss, CEO of generation at Drax.

“As the U.K. strives to achieve its world-leading net zero carbon target, it’s clear the power system will have to continue evolving and many different solutions, including negative emissions technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), will be needed alongside more renewables,” he continued.

“BECCS, which Drax is pioneering, has the potential to permanently remove 16 million tonnes of carbon a year from the atmosphere and help other sectors like aviation to reach net zero,” Koss said.

For the fourth quarter of 2019, biomass accounted for approximately 7 percent of the 76.5 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity supplied in Britain during the three-month period. Gas accounted for 38.3 percent, while wind accounted for 23.1 percent, nuclear accounted for 19.1 percent, imports accounted for 6.5 percent, coal accounted for 3 percent, solar accounted for 1.6 percent and hydro accounted for 1.4 percent.

Biomass capacity in Britain was at 3.2 gigawatts (GW) in the fourth quarter, unchanged from the same period of the previous year. Biomass output for the quarter reached 5.3 TWh, up slightly. Biomass capacity utilization averaged 77 percent during the quarter, with a maximum utilization level of 100 percent.

A full copy of the report is available on the Drax website