UK breaks coal-free power generation record by huge margin

Coal has historically been at the cornerstone of the UK's electricity mix, but the first three months of 2019 saw the electricity grid clock up 650 hours of coal-free generation - more than was achieved during the entirety of 2017.

UK breaks coal-free power generation record by huge margin

BEIS claims that reaching this many coal-free hours during winter is an unprecedented achievement

The progress was revealed late last week as part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) latest energy trends report, which documents how the UK’s energy mix is changing on a monthly and a quarterly basis.

According to the document, the UK completed 650 hours with no coal power being on the electricity grid between January and March 2019. The nation completed its first 24-hour period free from coal-fired electricity in the summer of 2017 and achieved a 55-hour stint last spring – but BEIS believes the Q1 figures mark a first for coal-free generation during the winter months.

It is worth noting, however, that overall power demand during Q1 of 2019 was found to be lower than during the same period in 2018, largely due to unseasonably warm temperatures in February. This will have made it easier for gas, renewables and nuclear to cover much of the UK’s electricity needs.

The report additionally reveals that around two-thirds less coal by weight has been burned to generate electricity in the UK so far this year than what was used between January and April 2018. Around 0.5Twh of coal has been burned for this purpose since 1 February, which BEIS claims will put the UK on track to break all previous coal-free generation records in 2019.

Responding to the report, Energy and Clean Growth minister Claire Perry said: “Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel, which is why we’ve committed to phasing it out entirely from our energy mix by 2025 as we help lead the world in the transition to cleaner technologies.

“This year we’ve already gone almost one month without coal to meet Britain’s electricity needs – more than the whole of 2017 – as we continue to seize the economic opportunities of moving to a greener, cleaner economy.” 

An ambitious transition?

The publication of the figures come at a time when the UK Government is receiving mixed responses to its low-carbon energy policies.

On the plus side, the latest Government statistics revealed that the renewables share of generation reached 33% in 2018, an increase of 3.9% compared to 2017. Overall, low-carbon sources (renewables and nuclear) accounted for 52.8% of total generation in 2018. 

These findings led the operating firm for National Grid to claim that Great Britain’s electricity system can operate as a zero-carbon grid by 2025, owing to a decreased reliance on coal generation and the emergence of new “smart” technologies.

However, other new figures published by BEIS last week revealed that UK is on course to miss its fourth and fifth carbon budgets by 139 and 245 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) respectively, leading critics of the Conservative Government to argue that its current energy policies are not sufficient for the UK to align with the Paris Agreement.

Particular anger was directed at the recent decision to build a new deep coal mine facility in Cumbria – the first of its kind in the region for 30 years. Owing to the fact that the Government has committed to eliminate coal from the energy mix by the end of 2025, the £165m facility in Whitehaven will likely be in operation for less than six years.

Sarah George

Comments (6)

  1. Ben Burton says:

    Still just point in time measurements of coal percentages., Even today bright sunshine outside but still the grid is supported by 3.8% with coal power.
    I still roll my eyes at these outlandish claims of coal free power.

  2. JOHN MCGEEHIN says:

    The Cumbrian mine is coking coal to replace imports, not for energy

  3. Richard Phillips says:

    This is merely a reflection of demand, and the policy to give pride of place to unreliable, intermittent, expensive and land consuming renewables.
    The former grid met demand by bringing in generation in order of increasing costs, and reducing it in a similar fashion. It was all well under control.
    Without fossil fuel or nuclear power, the chaotic generation of renewables would be impossible to handle. As it is the costs of incorporating it in the grid is enormous, so embarrassingly so that National Grid will not divulge anything about the costs of subsidies or others unique to renewables (cabling, frequency, voltage and phase correction etc).
    The public is taken for a ride!!

    Both John and Ben are spot on.

    Richard Phillips

  4. Richard Phillips says:

    Just a little addendum. Re Claire Perry. She is a Geographer. We have never had a minister responsible for any energy related affairs with any graduate qualification in the physical sciences. Yet they still hold forth in their ignorance, and specifically refuse any offer of technical advice.
    For myself, former ARIC., FRIC., 35 years as a scientist at AERE Harwell, I do pretend to know just a little about it.
    We need saving from the green green amateurs!

    Richard Phillips

  5. Ben Burton says:

    That would pretty much go for anyone in parliament or position of legislative authority.
    The tail of big business wags the dog!


  6. Richard Phillips says:

    The tail of big business indeed! The interest in wind farms is not the generation of "green" electricity, but lucrative profit. Since the withdrawal of subsidies for new build wind turbines, none have been built; in spite of planning permission for hundreds being passed.
    Back in 1989, Mrs T terminated our leading nuclear industry. All nuclear work at Harwell was terminated at a weeks notice. Hundreds of professional scientists and chartered engineers were given early retirement.
    "If we need new reactors, the Market will provide them, no need for us to design them"
    Just so, Wylfa and Moorside take note.

    Richard Phillips

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