Author: Adam Vaughan
Posted on: The Guardian | April 6th, 2018
The UK has been powered without coal for three days in a row, setting a new record and underlining the polluting fuel’s rapid decline.
Coal has historically been at the cornerstone of the UK’s electricity mix, but last year saw the first 24-hour period that the the country ran without the fuel since the 19th century.
New records were broken last week when zero power came from coal for nearly 55 consecutive hours.
That milestone in turn was smashed on Monday afternoon and the UK passed the 72-hour mark at 10am on Tuesday. The coal-free run came to an end after 76 hours.
Without the fossil fuel, nearly a third of Britain’s electricity was supplied by gas, followed by windfarms and nuclear on around a quarter each.
The rest came from biomass burned at Drax power station in North Yorkshire, imports from France and the Netherlands, and solar power. Drax said it expected to go without coal on Tuesday.
The coal-free records are a reversal from the recent highs that coal plant owners experienced during the so-called “beast from the east” cold snap.
During cold weather in February and early March, demand for gas to use in heating pushed up the price of gas for power, which brought coal power stations online.
However, overall power demand is now much lower following the recent warm weather, making it easier for gas, renewables and nuclear to cover much of the UK’s needs.
National Grid has forecast electricity demand this summer will be lower than last year, with minimum demand at 17GW and peak at 33.7GW. Demand on Tuesday is expected to peak at about 35GW.
Experts said to expect more milestones this year. “Ever rising renewable capacity in the UK will see these records fall more and more frequently, clearly showing progress made over the past decade or two,” said Jonathan Marshall, an analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
However, one observer cautioned that the shift away from coal could be a “false dawn” if it was just replaced by gas.
Andrew Crossland, who tracks electricity generation on the MyGridGB site, said: “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.”
A carbon tax, the cheaper price of gas and the rise of renewables have all hit coal operators. The government has set a deadline of October 2025 for phasing out coal entirely.
Two coal plant owners have said they will shut this year, which will leave the UK with six coal power stations including Drax, which has hinted it will cease burning coal before the 2025 target.