Britain goes without coal for the first time 'since Industrial Revolution'

Henry Bodkin
Britain's use of coal-generated electricity is dwindling fast - PA

The National Grid has announced Britain’s first full day without coal power “since the Industrial Revolution”.

A combination of low demand for electricity and an abundance of wind meant the grid completed 24 hours relying on just gas, nuclear and renewables.

Engineers at the company said Friday marked a “historic” milestone in Britain’s shift away from carbon fuels, and that coal-free days would become increasingly common.

It’s a very proud moment for us to be there on the first day when we weren’t burning coal

Duncan Burt, National Grid

Use of the fossil fuel has significantly declined in recent years, accounting for just 9 per cent of electricity generation last year, down from 23 per cent in 2015, with the closure or conversion of coal plants.

The Government has pledged to phase out coal - the most polluting fossil fuel - from the system by 2025 as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions in the UK.

The electricity grid has been coal-free a number of times since spring last year, but until now the longest continuous period had been 19 hours, first achieved on a weekend last May.

By 10.50pm on Friday the UK had not needed to call on coal-generated power in 24 hours, since West Burton 1 power station went offline on Thursday, the only one of Britain's nine coal-burning plants that was operating.

The “watershed” moment marks the first day Britain’s electricity system has survived without coal since the world’s first centralised public coal-fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882.

“The Industrial Revolution started with coal and it’s been the absolute backbone of our power for most of the time since,” said Duncan Burt, head of real-time operations at the National Grid.

“It’s a very proud moment for us to be there on the first day when we weren’t burning coal.”

He said he expected the grid to achieve more coal-free days as the summer progresses towards the period of low demand and high solar power in August, adding that overall demand for electricity was being tempered by more efficient homes and appliances.

Renewables, nuclear and gas powered the grid on Friday Credit: Reuters

“Days like this will become more and more common in the next two or three years, and by the early 2020s burning coal will become increasingly rare,” he said.

Cordi O’Hara, Director of System Operator said:  “To have the first working day without coal since the start of the industrial revolution is a watershed moment in 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. However, it’s important to remember coal is still an important source of energy as we transition to a low carbon system.”

Greenpeace UK welcomed yesterday’s expected milestone.

The campaign group’s head of energy, Hannah Martin, said: “A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have been radically transformed again.”

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