Thanks to a recent bout of warm weather that lowered the demand for coal power, the UK was able to go for three entire days completely free from coal. Gas, renewables and nuclear were all there to pick up the slack and cover the country’s energy needs during this time.
This hat-trick of coal-free days represents a new record for the country and shows that coal power, known as one of the most polluting fuels, is on a rapid decline.
Over the course of history, coal has played a vital role in the UK’s electricity mix. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 that the UK managed to go an entire 24 hours without using it. This was the first time the UK had gone such an extended period coal-free since the 19th century.
Now, in 2018, the UK has smashed that record with a 55 hour period of zero coal usage, which was subsequently broken again last Monday when the UK passed the 72-hour mark. The country’s coal-free record now stands at 76 hours, which might not seem like a lot but it indicates that a greener future is more attainable than ever.
Once coal had been eliminated from the mix, electricity around Britain was supplied by gas, representing about a third, and windfarms and nuclear, providing about a quarter each.
The remaining amount of electricity came from a mixture of biomass, burned in North Yorkshire at the Drax power station, solar power, and some imports from France and Holland.
This reduction in coal usage came as a welcome relief after the highs that came as a result of the exceptionally cold winter the UK just experienced. In February and March, the unusually cold weather drove up the price of gas and brought coal power stations online.
Fortunately, the cold weather seems to have subsided and the warm weather coming in is bringing with it the opportunity for gas, renewables and nuclear to take the helm and cover the UK’s power needs.
Indeed, forecasts from the National Grid show that demand for electricity this summer will be lower than in 2017. Minimum demand will go as low as 17GV while average peak will be around 33.7GW.
But, that’s not the only good news – experts predict even more milestones to be reached this year. Analyst Jonathan Marshall from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit praises the ever-growing renewable capacity in the UK. He expects to see more records set as progress made over the past decade comes to fruition.
One observer did comment that while a shift from coal would be positive, if it were to be replaced by gas, this could be a ‘false dawn’. He commented “Shifting to gas is likely to make our electricity market more volatile as our energy price becomes increasingly locked to international gas markets. That will only hurt consumers.”
Nevertheless, two coal plant owners have announced they will be closing up shop this year. This will leave the total of coal power stations in the UK at just six, meaning the country could well cease burning coal before its target of 2025.