Skip to content

“Polluting” UK coal plants export power to France as cold weather bites

November 18, 2017

By Paul Homewood



From the Guardian:



Polluting coal power stations in Britain have been profiting from the woes of the low-carbon French nuclear industry this month, according to analysis of energy generation data for the Guardian.

Tricastin, one of France’s biggest nuclear power stations, was closed by the French regulator in September so that works could be undertaken to address a flood risk.

The plant’s reactors make up four of the 39 currently offline in the French nuclear power industry, which experienced even worse outages last winter due to regulatory safety checks.

The operators of Britain’s eight remaining coal power stations appear to have stepped in to exploit higher French prices, exporting power across the channel as temperatures have plunged. UK coal power generation has declined rapidly in recent years under the carbon tax.

Most of the time, France sends electricity to the UK through 43-mile-long cables between Folkestone and a site near Calais, but in November there have been more hours when power has flowed in the other direction.



On Friday, power through the interconnector was almost entirely flowing at maximum capacity towards France.

“We are now exporting to France through the interconnector which is unusual. Normally we are a net importer from France but yet again towards the end of the year we are exporting,” said Andrew Crossland, who runs MyGridGB, a site that monitors power generation data.

“Essentially this means that France is importing higher carbon electricity than it can produce at home,” he added.

Data compiled by Crossland shows coal power has continued to decline in the UK this year after dramatically falling two-thirds in 2016. There have been 583 coal-free hours in 2017 to date – compared with 210 last year – with coal providing just 6.7% of electricity supply so far.

Analysis by Iain Staffell, lecturer in sustainable energy at Imperial College and author of the Electric Insights report, came to a similar conclusion.

“In short, coal usage has shot up in the last two weeks, both because we are now exporting to France and because demand is growing as it gets colder. We are still using less coal than we did this time last year though,” he said.

Uniper, the German energy company that runs Ratcliffe coal power station in Nottinghamshire, said the higher usage was a response to the situation in France and colder temperatures.

“Over the past few weeks, the French power market has seen relatively higher power prices compared to Britain. One of the impacts of this is that flows on the Britain-France interconnector have seen more of a flow to France than to Britain,” the company said in a statement. 


The Guardian appears to be aghast that the wicked coal power stations are “profiting” from the woes of the poor French.

Perhaps they would prefer it if the French had to suffer power cuts instead.

But it does raise the question of what we are supposed to do when they have all shut. The plan to rely on interconnectors from France does not seem to be such a good idea after all!

  1. Joe Public permalink
    November 18, 2017 7:01 pm

    France gets our marginal power; we get lumbered with the CO2 emissions!

    Interconnectors, like tracer-bullets, work both ways.

    • Nigel S permalink
      November 19, 2017 1:22 pm

      The CO2 might improve our wine harvest.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      November 19, 2017 8:46 pm

      Indeed they do: here are the French ones to their various neighbours doing just that:

      There’s been a massive swing from next exports to net imports since the beginning of September – and we’re not into the colder part of winter yet.

  2. Graeme No.3 permalink
    November 18, 2017 7:31 pm

    What happens when the wind turbines don’t work (and the solar PV doesn’t work well in winter) but demand in the UK is high as well?
    South Australia ‘won’ the race to the first renewables blackout late last year but who’s next?
    There were actually several in SA and I can assure readers in the UK that even with equitable weather 54 hours without electricity isn’t fun. Thousands would die in the UK. Can Ministers be charged with murder?

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      November 18, 2017 8:44 pm

      Graeme – I think the graph above almost shows that. Coal up to 4GW from 1 and a bit in November, while power to France delta is less than 2GW? Coal almost flat from mid August to mid November while France gets 2GW more?

      Couldn’t be because wind fails to deliver in November, but Wee Wind Ophelia blew through earlier and we Brits needed to dump it on somebody, could it? Surely not.

      What the French are getting is roughly 50% gas and 20% nuclear – the electrons aren’t labelled! More to the point, the French electricity is pricier because they have several reactors down, so we can sell them some of our expensive power – which lets coal in, because our gas and nuclear are running flat out. The French really need to channel their inner de Gaulle, and get those things up so we can all benefit!

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        November 19, 2017 12:54 am

        You are lucky to have had that extra capacity available. Don’t let your politicians dynamite the coal fired plants to exhibit ‘virtue’.
        The problem with interconnection is that there always has to be enough spare capacity to deal with problems (much like a national grid). What would happen if there were problems in Germany when there was a need in the UK? Who would the French favour if it were one or the other? They couldn’t ‘half supply’ else both grids would go down.
        And as I said, 3 or 4 days without electricity when the temperature is suitable for short sleeve shirts is a lot different when it is -10℃ outside.

    • Ben Vorlich permalink
      November 19, 2017 9:03 am

      The multi-national grid I like to view is the Nordic Grid (7 countries 4 Nordic plus 3 Baltic states) seen here (there is a table of data from the link)

      Watching it over a few months is quite interesting and enlightening. Wind rarely delivers a significant percentage at peak times.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        November 19, 2017 5:46 pm

        Wind produces less than norma, when demand is high. This isn’t just theory: here’s a couple of charts that prove it:

    • Bitter&twisted permalink
      November 20, 2017 8:18 am

      I do hope so.
      Time the Oxford PPE think they know-it-all morons get theirs.

  3. Jack Broughton permalink
    November 18, 2017 7:34 pm

    The enviro-nutters are determined to get rid of all of our excellent coal-fired power stations as fast as possible: they are trying to accelerate the dismantling of Ferrybridge at the moment. The best approach, in my view, would be to re-furbish these as gas and coal fired units for future security and flexibility; a very low cost solution to our power reserve problems.

    I do not think that there is any effective opposition to these fools in the UK and they will succeed in removing the ability to burn coal in the near future as they intend. Tragically, they will not be held to account for the eco-madness when the UK is importing what will be very expensive gas in the near future.

  4. CheshireRed permalink
    November 18, 2017 7:56 pm

    To not be self-sufficient in energy with all our resources would be gross negligence. Would any MP ever be ‘charged’ or held to account for any such shortages or even blackouts? Ha ha ha ha. No.

  5. MrGrimNasty permalink
    November 18, 2017 8:25 pm

    But hang on, we intend to import from France in cold weather to keep the lights on – and more interconnects is the big solution – doh! Never saw that coming (sarc).

  6. November 18, 2017 9:56 pm

    Stock stack photo or is that stack really putting out all that black smoke?

    • November 19, 2017 9:11 am

      Looks more like black-and-white smoke. No, it’s all about camera angles and picking the right time of day, plus a spot of photo-shopping perhaps 😉

      Then people can kid themselves that carbon dioxide is ‘dirty’. Usual propaganda tricks.

      • November 19, 2017 1:51 pm

        I’ve been reading stacks for decades and know that is not even white smoke, but water droplets (steam) and the black is artifice of photography. It is the type of photo used to show pollution “spewing” from stacks, or even cooling towers. Maybe when we put in stock photos we should not use ones that can lead to incorrect conclusions.

    • Bloke down the pub permalink
      November 19, 2017 11:31 am

      And no surprise that The Telegraph uses the same photo for their article here.

    • November 19, 2017 11:42 am

      In the years I lived near Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station I never saw anything like that coming from the chimney. Mainly all one could see was condensing water vapour from the 8 massive cooling towers. I suspect that the photo is of the chimney at Drax where the smoke from burning wood pellets will contain a lot of condensing water vapour from the wood pellets.

    • November 19, 2017 12:08 pm

      See here for a discussion of this image from 2013. I complained to the BBC re their usage of it at some point subsequently, but was rebuffed. I will search for the email they sent me.

      • November 19, 2017 12:13 pm

        Wrong link: the correct one is here. The above link mentions the same image, but is not its first appearance.

  7. November 18, 2017 10:23 pm

    You’ll note from the graph that the rise in UK coal output is twice as steep as the fall in electric imports.
    So for November we have coal is up +2.7GW , vs -1.1Gw from France

    Sizewell B at 1.1GW is also off for maintenance
    So 2.7 – 1.1 – 1.1 still means an extra 0.5GW is being covered ..probably cos of poor wind/solar
    That’s why the Guardian article doesn’t allow comments I guess.

    Despite coal being cleaner that Drax wood burning per MWh, the Guardian load the title words and graphic with brainwashing cues “Polluting UK coal plants” etc

    • November 19, 2017 6:45 am

      Sizewell B is 1.2GW. It is currently shutdown for its regular 18monthly refuelling outage (which includes statutory 18-month maintenance and testing).

      Many years ago I lived near Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station. It produced very little pollution then and I can only think that it is cleaner these days.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        November 19, 2017 9:11 am

        I used to drive past Ratcliffe-on-Soar on my way to and from work, as you say very little pollution from the burning of coal. At one time the Trent Valley had a series of coal fired power stations which ran very reliably and were used by the RAF as target practice in the days when Britain had an airforce worthy of the name rather than an inadequate Self Defence Force.

  8. Adam Gallon permalink
    November 19, 2017 9:51 am

    The churnalist who penned it, is getting slated in the comments. Mind you, with a 2.1 in English & having done nothing but churn since leaving university, he knows what he’s talking about. Not!

  9. November 19, 2017 1:15 pm

    I was about to enter the same observations about the photo. Where I live, I can see the stacks for the Longview Power plant along the Pennsylvania border. I will see it when I go to church this morning. What comes from those stacks is white steam. The same for the older nearby Ft. Martin plant with the parabolic towers.

    In looking at that photo, I suspect that some “photo shop” work was done on it to darken the “clouds.” It does not come out “black” and become “white” in a few feet. I know it is hard to believe that the media would alter the photo to make their pointless point, but try to fathom….

    • November 19, 2017 1:24 pm

      See the link in my comment above for a discussion of the image from 2011 at WUWT. The photographer asserts that there was no editing; the only complaint that is sustainable is that the image is misleading, it seems.

      • November 19, 2017 1:39 pm

        It would seems that the Grauniad has taken fake news to a new level. The BBC would be proud, especially as the BBC and the Grauniad work hand-in-glove.

      • November 19, 2017 1:53 pm

        I was trying to post under your comment, however, I got a message that my login was out of date and then it posted where you see it. Oh, well, the price of progress.

        No matter what they say, I think it has been colored in. It just does not look “real” to me. I come from a family of excellent amateur photographers. My late father specialized in B&W large prints. I am wondering if it was converted to B&W, the contrast ramped up and then superimposed on the color version. It just simply looks phoney. That’s my opinion and I’m

      • JerryC permalink
        November 19, 2017 7:51 pm

        He definitely does not assert that there was no editing. He asserts that the image was adjusted in accordance with the Guardian’s guidelines on photo processing. Make of that what you will.

      • JerryC permalink
        November 19, 2017 8:30 pm

        I think the photo is just extremely backlit, with the sun behind the cloud of water vapor. Landscape photographers use this technique all the time, for example:

        Obviously there’s a big difference between a nature photographer using this technique to achieve an aesthetic effect and a photojournalist using it to convey an incorrect impression to the public that power plants are belching out dirty soot, just like back in the old days.

  10. It doesn't add up... permalink
    November 19, 2017 6:20 pm

    Meanwhile we have complacency at National Grid in their Winter Outlook:

    Our analysis is based on three interconnector scenarios. All of the scenarios assume full exports to Ireland, which adds 1,000 MW to expected demand. Each scenario includes a varying level of import from Continental Europe:
    • Low imports of 500 MW, resulting in net
    exports of 500 MW.
    • Base case of 1,800 MW, resulting in net
    imports of 800 MW.
    • Full imports of 3,000 MW, resulting in net
    imports of 2,000 MW.

    During winter 2016/17 France had a significant reduction in nuclear output capability as a
    result of maintenance outages. This led to higher power prices than previously experienced. Further inspections on French nuclear plant should not impact the generators’ availability during winter 2017/18,

    The Capacity Agreement places an obligation on the interconnector owner to deliver the
    interconnector’s de-rated capacity during a period of system stress. The de-rating factors
    for interconnectors are based on reliability and market-determined flows (that is the likely future
    direction of flow) during winter peak periods. Capacity obligations are governed by demand which means that the obligation is greater during the highest demand periods of the year.
    Should the holder of a Capacity Agreement fail to deliver their de-rated capacity during a
    system stress event, financial penalties apply.

    The blue dashed line in figure 1.2 shows the ACS (Average Cold Spell) peak demand. Historical analysis shows that ACS peak has never occurred before the first week in December, during the Christmas fortnight or after the first week in February. As a result, ACS demand is not included for these weeks. This chart shows that we expect that ACS demand can be met even with the low interconnector import scenario.”

    How about with interconnector exports and no adequate French nuclear generation? Say the financial penalty for non-delivery is £100/MWh – it just gets added on to what the French pay to keep power their side of the Channel, and allows bumper profits across generators able to operate, and electricity traders with long positions. The penalty creates a situation where profit is raised far more than its cost. It becomes a bidding war for who gets the blackout.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      November 20, 2017 2:16 pm

      Great assessment of our lunatic power economics. This, linked to your earlier graphs shows clearly that not only do we have a looming peak demand problem, the scatter of generation is massive which impacts all conventional generation except hydro.

      In previous eras unreliable generation was penalised with the cost of back-up, now it is rewarded!

  11. mikewaite permalink
    November 19, 2017 6:33 pm

    I hope that this cold spell is not continuing, We have already started to import from France again and wind is contributing very little . The coal power at 6.7GW is approaching the red line , which surely is not good, and the immediate thought that passes through the “mind” of the PM is of course , we really must get rid of all the nasty coal power stations .

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      November 19, 2017 7:26 pm

      We are being supplied because it is the weekend when demand is much lower. When demand rises again tomorrow morning I expect the flow will reverse again.

  12. John W permalink
    November 19, 2017 7:34 pm

    Looking at Gridwatch Templar, an excellent site, I see that coal is representing a large proportion of genenration this evening (15%) due to no wind ( and of course no solar as it is dark ! )
    When will the powers that be in Westminster understand the difference betweem installed capacity and output – oh, probalby never since there is not one single MP who is a chartered engineer, and the remainder are no good at arithmatic !

  13. Athelstan permalink
    November 19, 2017 8:04 pm

    It’s just a matter of time before it all goes tits up, even the ‘might’ Frogs teeter on the brink, only a slight push is required

    As winter’s armies approach [January and February] a period of blocking anticyclonic high pressure feeding in Polar/Siberian air across the British Isles inclusive of westerrn continent of Europe will trigger it – interconnecter or no interconnectors.

  14. It doesn't add up... permalink
    November 19, 2017 8:43 pm

    I took a look at recent trends in French power imports and exports via

    Limiting than analysis to weekdays rather than weekends we can see the strong trend since the beginning for September for declining next exports, changing to rising net imports this month.

    Moreover, we can also see the progression in sources. First, exports to the UK are reduced. Then imports from Germany are increased. Next we see some reduction in exports to Spain, and the beginning of imports from the UK, with imports from Spain soon following on. Finally, exports to Italy reduce and even switch to import. German exports have become much less reliable as solar fades and when the wind drops.

    It is plain that the UK is regarded early on as a source of power to meet French shortages: National grid seems to be doubly complacent in failing to understand how the European grid adjusts in practice to French shortages.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      November 20, 2017 2:25 pm

      Could it be that France is doing what Norway does and taking the free electricity when German unreliables are given away rather than curtailed? Is the information available in MWh rather than peak demand, as that would maybe give a clearer picture of the French approach?

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        November 20, 2017 9:31 pm

        The information is in MWh on an hourly basis (at least as I presented it: I have data per 15 mins). France is better placed to take solar surpluses (which are mainly generated in the South of Germany, and occur in summer rather than November). German wind generation is heavily in the North, and so those surpluses are available to the Nordic countries more easily. There is still a lack of internal German transmission capacity to link the North and the South.

        If you want to investigate the German position you can start here:

        and nose around

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: