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UK passes 300 hours of coal-free power generation

London — The UK passed 300 hours of coal-free generation on Thursday, the National Grid said, as mild, windy conditions reduced the need for older power plants.

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Data from National Grid showed zero coal-fired generation since May 18. The UK power mix was also coal-free in the first week of May before the dark matter was brought back into use following a few gas-fired plant outages on May 9.

According to S&P Global Platts data, month-ahead profit margins for 35% efficient coal-fired plants remained in negative territory Wednesday, at minus GBP16.20/MWh ($20.5/MWh).

A key reason for the reduced need for coal-fired power has been the rapid rise of renewables capacity, mainly solar and wind. Other factors include carbon pricing and the relative cheapness of gas.

As an example, UK power prices fell below zero for nine hours on Sunday -- from midday until 9 pm -- when demand was 2 GW below forecasts combined with high wind generation. Power prices fell as low as minus GBP71.26/MWh.

"Prices were negative because we were paying the wind farms not to generate. And we had to bring 1.5 GW of gas plant on to manage intermittency and Firm Frequency Response. So, we are turning off renewables and bringing on gas...and that is not cheap," one trader said.

"We have zero-coal free generation, but I am not too sure that is as good a thing as people make out. Especially given the balancing costs it has incurred particularly on Sunday."

-- Shubhlakshmi Shukla, shubhlakshmi.shukla@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Dan Lalor, daniel.lalor@spglobal.com