Britain hasn’t experienced a full day without coal power for over a century. But last week the National Grid announced that the UK had a 24-hour span in which its energy came from sources other than coal — a significant milestone in the fight to permanently retire coal-derived energy. A far cry from the chocking smog or fogs of the 1950’s.
The National Grid later put up a handy graphic on Twitter, confirming their day without coal-generated electricity on Friday, April 21:
National Grid can confirm that for the past 24 hours, it has supplied GB’s electricity demand without the need for coal
Power Generation Breakdown
The National Grid later offered up an average breakdown of the power sources that served as an alternative to coal. About half the energy was supplied by extracted gas and about a quarter came from nuclear power plants.
This isn’t the first time the UK has experienced a coal-free period. In May of 2016, there was a span of 19 hours in which the UK’s energy supply was not fed by coal power, and there have been shorter intervals since that time. However, this is the first full day of no coal power — and it is being treated as a significant event.
Ahead of the no-coal day, Paul Elkin of University College London told the BBC: “As recently as the late 1980s coal was supplying as much as 70% of UK electricity. We then had the dash for gas in the 1990s, with nuclear roughly contributing around 25%, and coal dropped below 50%.”
However, Gareth Redmond-King of WWF, while praising this important milestone, gives us context on the UK’s progress toward a green future, explaining: Getting rid of coal from our energy mix is exciting and hugely important. But it’s not enough to achieve our international commitments to tackle climate change – we haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport. Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors.
Indeed, the UK has a significant way to go before it can be said to be making solid efforts to fight climate change.
The UK has pledged to eliminate coal-derived energy from the National Grid by 2025 and, as the latest figures show, it has made ample strides toward that aim — but at a cost.
As the price of natural gas has decreased, it has begun to take the place of coal. However, research has shown that — despite seeming to offer a bridge fuel between dirty coal and green energy alternatives — shale-derived gas has a carbon footprint that can exceed coal.
With solar and offshore wind energy becoming a big part of the mix I am sure coal will really be a thing of the past in the next 10 years.
Recent figures show that the UK’s renewable energy sector is making major strides. Estimates suggest that last year renewable energy companies in the wind and marine sector made close to £2billion, with energy exported to around 43 countries. And the contracts could be far higher, as these figures only represent a snapshot of disclosed deals.
While these statistics don’t directly translate into environmental gains yet, they demonstrate that green energy has the potential to be a powerful economic force. This may be a key point in convincing the UK’s Conservative leadership to quit nonrenewable sources for good.
So, while the first coal-free energy day in the UK doesn’t mean it is close to achieving its targets yet, it does signal a small but significant step in the right direction.
Perhaps the remaining coal industry workers can apply to the USA for a work visa (since they are reversing their coal policy) or look for job retraining in Wind and Solar.