The UK has just completed its first week without any domestic coal generation on the power grid since before the Industrial Revolution, marking a significant milestone in its low-carbon energy transition.
The National Grid revealed today (8 May) that the UK’s domestic electricity grid has been operating without any energy generated through coal plants within the nation since 1.42pm last Wednesday (1 May), when the last generator came off the system for a temporary shutdown.
Coal has historically been at the cornerstone of the UK’s electricity mix since the 19th century but now accounts for less than 10% of national power output.
As a result, the UK has broken its coal-free generation record several times in recent times. Last month, the electricity grid operated for almost 92 hours with no domestically generated coal-fired power, far exceeding the previous record of 76 hours, which was set between 21 and 24 April 2018.
While there are seasonal factors at play, accounting for the long performed temporary shutdowns of coal plants during lower demand periods in spring, it is worth noting that the first three months of 2019 saw the UK electricity grid clock up 650 hours of coal-free generation – more than was achieved during the entirety of 2017. A further 350 hours of coal-free generation have been recorded so far in Q2. “Going a week without coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution is a huge leap forward in our world-leading efforts to reduce emissions, but we’re not stopping there,” Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said. “To combat climate change and seize on the opportunities of clean growth, we’re phasing out coal entirely by 2025 and building a cleaner, greener energy system.”
Clean energy future
Great Britain experienced its first coal-free day following industrialisation in April 2017 but, as the Government continues with its plans to shut down all UK coal power plants by 2025, the National Grid has predicted that coal-free periods of generation will become the “new normal”.
“As more and more renewables come on to our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence,” the National Grid Electricity System Operator’s (ESO) director Fintan Slye said. “We believe that, by 2025, we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero-carbon. This will enable new technologies and removes barriers to ever-increasing levels of renewables.”
The National Grid ESO first announced its plans to operate with zero-carbon electricity by 2025 last month, after its own research found that the systems, products and services needed to support the transition to a decarbonised grid should be put in place over the next six years.
These developments range from large-scale offshore wind projects and the wide uptake of technologies such as battery storage arrays and demand-response systems, to a sweeping uptake of small solar arrays and electric vehicles (EVs) by domestic consumers.