UK set for first coal-power free day since industrial revolution

Milestone follows collapse in coal generation over the past year

Today (21 April) is expected to become first day since the industrial revolution during which no coal was burnt in the UK to generate electricity.

“Great Britain has never had a continuous 24-hour period without coal”, National Grid’s control room tweeted this morning. “Today is looking like it could be the first.”

National Grid’s system operator director Cordi O’Hara said: “To have the first working day without coal since the start of the industrial revolution will be a watershed moment in how our energy system is changing.”

She continued: "Our energy mix continues to change and National Grid adapts system operation to embrace these changes. However, it’s important to remember coal is still an important source of energy as we transition to a low carbon system.”

David Elmes, head of Warwick Business School’s global energy research network, also welcomed the news: "Coal has been a vital part of the UK over my lifetime, and due recognition to the people who made that happen, but this is an exciting step in the huge transition the UK is making to an electricity system that’s still affordable and reliable but more sustainable through using gas rather than coal.”

The major milestone comes as the government consults on plans to phase unabated coal generation by 2025.

Coal generation has already declined precipitously over the past year due to its displacement by more cost-efficient gas generation. Coal’s share of generation mix dropped to just 9.1 per cent in 2016 -  the lowest level ever recorded - after the Longannet, Ferrybridge and Rugeley plants all closed during the course of the year.

This was partly due to the higher carbon costs faced by coal plants which typically emit more than double the amount of carbon dioxide produced by gas plants for each megawatt hour.

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