At teatime tomorrow the amount of electricity being used in the UK will soar to its peak of the week – around 49,000 megawatts will surge through the grid as people go home to switch on the lights and cook supper. It’s also when the trains are at their busiest, while offices and shops are still burning lights and heating at full pelt.
You can see the live numbers in real-time online at BM Reports, part of the National Grid. More pertinently, BM’s statistics also show where the electricity comes from: based on my Friday night viewing, around 38 per cent is powered by coal, some 20.4 per cent comes from gas being pumped in from Norway and Russia, 14 per cent from wind (a record), about 19.7 per cent from nuclear, and the rest from hydro and tidal sources.
Yet Monday’s snapshot of energy supplies would have looked dramatically different only a few years ago; there’s more electricity coming from coal now – it’s so cheap that generators have switched to the dirtier fuel and gas plants mothballed. Until recently, about 25 per cent came from nuclear.
That Monday picture is set to change again beyond recognition as the UK has signed up to the EU carbon directive to run down all its coal-fired stations by 2020 – that’s a whopping 40 per cent of capacity that has to be replaced. At the same time, the output from nukes will fall to tiny levels as plants are phased out. The new Hinkley Point will take another decade to come on stream.