Biomass vs Coal
In July 2012, Drax made the big leap when it confirmed that it planned to transform itself into a predominantly biomass-fueled generator. This was a major decision by the UKs biggest power station generating up to 8% of the UK’s energy. It is a massive 4GW power station.
Drax has already converted two of its six boilers to biomass since 2012 and aims to complete conversion of the third by 2016 and a future conversion of a fourth unit is being considered.
Originally built, owned and operated by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), Drax Power Station was constructed and commissioned in two stages. Stage one (units 1, 2 and 3) was completed in 1974, some 12 years later in 1986 stage two (units 4, 5 and 6) was completed. It is the last coal-fired power station to be built in the UK.
Each of the units has a capacity of 660MW when burning coal, giving a total capacity of just under 4,000MW, making Drax the largest power station in the UK. In 1988, Drax became the first power station to invest in the retrofit of flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) equipment, making Drax the cleanest coal-fired power station in the UK.
In 1990, the electricity industry of England and Wales was privatised under the Electricity Act 1989. Three generating companies and 12 regional electricity companies were created. As a result of privatisation, Drax Power Station came under the ownership of National Power, one of the newly formed generating companies.
The gamble to become a predominantly biomass fuelled generator is not without risk as the government in 2014 slashed the support for biomass conversion. Despite this Drax aims to continue with the conversion of three units but analysts believe the conversion of the fourth is in doubt. Drax has invested hundreds of millions in recent years and has placed itself in the upstream part of the biomass value chain. It remains to be seen if this investment will have proven prudent.
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