Britain poised to hit two months without power from coal plants

James Marshall
June 11, 2020

When the lockdown was imposed in Britain due to the coronavirus pandemic, the demand was electricity greatly reduced due to factories, industries, and most commercial spaces being shut down.

Use of renewable power soared over the lockdown period and May was the greenest ever month for electricity production in the UK.

A decade ago about 40% of the country's electricity came from coal, while just 3% of the country's electricity came from wind and solar power.

The milestone was passed at midnight, with today (10 June) marking two months since Drax unit 5 switched off, the last of GB's coal fleet to stop generating according to EnAppSys. "Coal was being pushed out of the merit order in United Kingdom electricity well before Covid-19, with cheaper renewables, nuclear and gas plants meeting demand", said James Brabben, an analyst at Cornwall Insight.

May saw the greenest ever month for electricity production in Britain, with the lowest average carbon intensity on record at 143 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, National Grid said.

The coal-free run beat previous records in April, surpassing the 18 days, 6 hours and ten minutes set in May 2019. The figures apply to England, Scotland, and Wales only, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid.

"The question is now whether policymakers keep pace with this to encourage further investment into clean energy sources".

Britain was home to the world's first coal-fuelled power plant in the 1880s, and coal was its dominant electric source and a major economic driver for the next century. While natural gas is a fossil fuel, it produces about 50% fewer greenhouse gases than coal.

A decade ago, it was the biggest consumer of coal in the United Kingdom but has been switching to compressed wood pellets.

"We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future", Drax chief executive Will Gardiner told the BBC. Carbon intensity is a measure of how much carbon dioxide is emitted for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced.

They also say it will take many years for the trees in U.S. forests where Drax sources the seven million tonnes of wood pellets it now burns each year to absorb the Carbon dioxide the power plant and its wood processing operations produce each year. "So far this year, renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that's never happened before", Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief told the BBC.

The lowest gas prices for a decade have also upturned the economics for burning the fuel for power above more expensive coal.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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