Britain Has First Day Without Coal Since The Industrial Revolution

It's a watershed moment.

21/04/2017 13:50 | Updated 28 April 2017

This story has been updated.

Friday (21 April) is set to be the first day since the industrial revolution that the UK won’t generate any electricity from coal.

The National Grid said it predicted the UK’s energy mix would be coal-free for a continuous 24 hour period for the first time in 135 years.

The last coal-fired power station stopped running at 11pm last night (20 April), a National Grid spokesperson told HuffPost UK. The UK’s first coal-fired power station was switched on in 1882.

The stations have been offline for extended periods in the past, but the previous record of 19 hours was set during a weekend – on 14 May 2016 – when demand is typically lower.

Jon Ferris of Utilitywise told HuffPost UK that while today may be the first coal-free day, it won’t be the last: “At this time of year, there is sufficient reserve capacity from operating natural gas power plants to provide flexibility to cope with the variability in renewable generation.”

As a result, operators are able to turn off coal-fired power stations, knowing they can still meet the country’s electricity requirements.

Phil Noble / Reuters
Fiddlers Ferry coal fired power station near Liverpool.

Environmentalists hailed the announcement as a watershed moment in Britain’s transition to a low carbon economy.

Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said the news would have been unimaginable a decade ago: “It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritise making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology.”

The government unveiled plans in November to phase-out coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, with the last coal-fired power station set to be forced to shut in 2025.

Carbon Brief’s policy editor Simon Evans explained that the UK’s electricity generation from coal was so far down 36% in 2017 versus 2016.

Ferris said Britain had become less reliant on coal thanks to the growth of renewables, declining electricity demand, carbon pricing increases and the ease of importing electricity from Europe. 

The National Grid is due to make another announcement later today to confirm whether the milestone has been met.

In the meantime, it’s worth keeping an eye on Grid Watch, a dashboard detailing the UK’s energy production in realtime.

At the time of publication, it looked like this:

Grid Watch

Update: The National Grid has since confirmed that Britain was coal-free for a continuous 24 hour period

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