Britain has marked its first full day without using coal-generated power since the Industrial Revolution more than 100 years ago. The UK’s National Grid described the milestone achieved yesterday as a “watershed” moment as part of the country’s plans to phase out last coal plants by 2025 in order to cut carbon emissions.
Friday is thought to be the first time the country has not used coal to generate electricity since the world’s first centralised public coal-fired generator opened in 1882 at Holborn Viaduct in London. Cordi O’Hara of the National Grid said, “To have the first working day without coal since the start of the industrial revolution is a watershed moment on how our energy system is changing.
“The UK benefits from highly diverse and flexible sources of electricity. Our energy mix continues to change and National Grid adapts system operation to embrace these changes”. She, however, confirmed that coal will remain an important source of energy even as the transition to more sustainable sources is made.
In 2012, Britain had 17 coal-fired power stations that were together capable of generating 23 gigawatts of power, close to half the UK’s peak demand. A number of them closed in 2013 under EU rules to curb acid rain and more have closed since then after having been rendered uneconomic by the UK’s carbon tax.
The eight remaining plants, almost 50 years old on average, are capable of generating just under 14 gigawatts of power. They are in decline as they struggle to compete with gas plants, which face lower taxes, and lack the subsidies which wind, solar and biomass plants enjoy.
Last year gas plants generated 42.4 per cent of the UK’s electricity, nuclear 21.2 per cent and renewables 24.4 per cent. The National Grid recorded zero coal generation for the first time in May last year for a few hours. There have been other days with barely any coal generation since then but Friday was the first full day.
Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace said, “A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time, our energy system will have radically transformed again”. Although coal plants are now needed far less, they are still expected to be required to help keep the lights on in the depths of British winter when demand is highest and solar panels will not be producing electricity.