UK coal-free power generation breaks record

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UK coal-fired power plants have gone a record of 18 days, six hours and 11 seconds (and counting) without being used to generate electricity. Let’s have a look at how the nation arrived at this milestone, as well as what is in store for the future of coal in the UK.

The UK has broken its own record for the most consecutive days of coal-free electricity generation, according to National Grid ESO (Electricity System Operator).

This is the longest the nation has gone without using coal to generate power since the world’s first coal-fired power plant, the Edison Electric Light Station, opened in London in 1882.

The previous record was set in June 2019, when no coal was burned to generate electricity for 18 days, six hours and 10 seconds.

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The end of UK coal

Once a primary source of electricity generation for decades, coal is increasingly becoming less of a player in the UK’s energy mix.

The current UK coal hiatus is due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. Even though households are consuming more electricity with residents on lockdown, overall energy demand has dropped due to the decrease in industrial and commercial activities.

With a drop in demand, the National Grid can limit its sourcing from nonrenewable power plants, thus enabling renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power, to take up a larger share than usual of the UK’s total energy mix.

UK coal production is likely to briefly pick back up once businesses reopen. However, since coal is the most carbon-intensive form of energy generation, the nation plans to shut down all remaining UK coal plants by 2024. Government restrictions for purchasing coal to burn at home are even set to begin taking effect next February.

Two UK coal-fired power stations were recently shut down in March, leaving four active plants to be phased out over the next four years.

In 1920, the UK coal mining industry employed more than one million people across the country, according to data published by Statista. The industry now employs just around one thousand individuals.

The UK is not the only country taking measures to end the use of coal for generating energy. Belgium closed all of its coal factories in 2016, while more recently Sweden and Austria shut down their remaining coal-fired power plants in early April of this year. Most other European countries also have plans in place to phase out coal plants over the next 10 to 20 years.

What’s next for the UK?

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Instead of relying on coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity, the UK will increasingly turn to renewable energy sources, like wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

In some areas, plans are being made to repurpose UK coal mines as renewable energy stations. By flooding the underground mines, geothermal energy can be harnessed to generate heat.

The Tyneside City Council, located in the North East area of England, has already raised nearly £7 million to go towards generating this type of energy to heat local council buildings.

In addition to the country setting a new record for the most consecutive days without burning coal for power, the UK also set a new solar power record on 20 April when solar power stations generated more than 9.6GW of electricity.

This current period of managing a higher share of renewable sources is likely to accelerate the UK’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

If you’re interested in contributing to the decrease in carbon emissions, you should make sure that your home energy comes from renewable sources. Give us a call at Selectra on 0203 936 0059, and one of our energy experts will be able to find you a clean and affordable energy tariff in your area.

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