Great Britain broke its record for the longest continuous period without generating electricity from coal-fired power plants over the Easter weekend, lasting for nearly 91 hours without coal.
Coal use in Great Britain has fallen by the wayside in recent years and is responsible for less and less of the country’s electricity generation – unsurprising, considering that the Conservative Government is planning to phase-out coal use entirely by 2025.
Over the first quarter of 2019, coal produced only 2.9 TWh – down 37.2% from the previous quarter and down 65% from the same quarter a year earlier – while renewable energy sources generated 27.2 TWh over the same first quarter period.
In April of 2018, Great Britain increased its record period without coal-generated electricity, first with a 55-hour coal-free period followed up a week later with a 76-hour coal-free period. By the end of 2018, Britain went over 1,000 cumulative hourswithout coal-fired electricity generation.
Over the Easter weekend, however, the coal-free generation record was smashed as Britain went for 90 hours and 45 minutes without coal-fired electricity generation in its electricity mix.
Duncan Burt, director of operations at National Grid, told BBC Radio 5 Live it was “a really big deal”.
“It’s all about the sunny weather we’ve been seeing, so energy demand is low. There has been lots of lovely solar power off the panels too.”
Unfortunately, out of this record-breaking coal-free weekend came warnings from experts that coal was being placed in the energy mix primarily by gas-fired generation which, while less damaging than coal, is nevertheless a corrosive fossil fuel.
Further, experts warn that an overreliance on natural gas could make the UK vulnerable to fluctuations and the whims of the international market.
The country’s reliance on natural gas may be mitigated, slightly, in the wake of its Offshore Wind Sector Deal which was finally signed in early-March and is aiming to ensure the technology provides at least 30% of the country’s electricity by 2030.
However, the damage done in the meantime by an overreliance on natural gas could offset any benefits from increasing offshore wind (and other renewable energy technologies) down the track.
“89 hours of coal-free electricity is great but let’s make this all day every day,” said Muna Suleiman, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, speaking presumably before the record-breaking run of coal-free generation ended. “Electricity generated by renewable sources is a key part of the fight against climate chaos so it’s time to remove all the blockers to renewable energy.
“The government must prioritise the development of sources such as solar and onshore wind.”