Britain goes record 10 days without coal power – and counting

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Great Britain chalks up 10 consecutive days without coal power generation – an achievement the grid operator predicts will soon become the “new normal.”

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Skegness Pier, UK, with offshore windfarms. Credit: Steven Booth/Alamy Live News.
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Great Britain’s recent trend of breaking the number of hours it can go without using coal generation in its electricity mix continues this week as, at time of writing, the country chalks up more than 10 consecutive days without coal.

We have been covering Great Britain’s (as distinct from the UK, as Britain’s energy grid does not include Northern Ireland) success at removing coal from its energy mix for some time, now, and so far, 2019 has seen records tumbling like dominoes.

In just the past month alone, Britain has increased its record time spent without coal generation from 90 hours over the Easter weekend up to 8 days, 1 hour, and 25 minutes a fortnight later in early May.

Unsurprisingly, then, Fintan Slye, the head of Britain’s National Grid, told media in the UK: “I predict it will become the ‘new normal’.”

Going a week without coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution is a huge leap forward in our world-leading efforts to reduce emissions, but we’re not stopping there,” added UK Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark.

“To combat climate change and seize on the opportunities of clean growth, we’re phasing out coal entirely by 2025 and building a cleaner, greener energy system.”

May isn’t even over, though, and Britain has already smashed a new record. Currently, as of 3pm on May 28 (Australian time), Great Britain has gone 254 hours – 10 days and 14 hours – without generating any electricity from coal.

According to the UK Coal Twitter account – based on data from BM Reports and Sheffield Solar at The University of Sheffield – coal was generating  0.00GW (0.00%) out of a total of 28.58GW as it passed the 240 hour mark.

The UK is currently looking to phase out coal from its energy mix completely by 2025. In line with this, coal capacity has fallen dramatically in recent years as various power operators shuttered their projects and transitioned either to nuclear, or more frequently, renewable energy sources.

Over the first quarter of 2019, coal generated only 2.9TWh, around 3 per cent, of the country’s electricity – down 37.2 per cent from the previous quarter and down 65 per cent from the same quarter a year earlier. Conversely, renewable energy sources generated 27.2TWh over the same first quarter – 33 per cent of the country’s electricity generation.

There are a few ways to keep track of Great Britain’s energy usage. There is BMReports.com, run by Elexon – the country’s Balancing and Settlement Code – which provides “forecast, near real time, and historic data about the Balancing Mechanism.”

There is also the aforementioned UK Coal Twitter account, which provides hourly updates regarding the role coal is playing in the British electricity mix, but which is relatively minimal in its content. GridWatch.co.uk is another website monitoring the UK’s (as compared to Great Britain) electricity national grid demand and output, but which is based on data from BM Reports.

There is also Electric Insights run by Drax, which owns the UK’s largest power station and Europe’s biggest decarbonisation project, and which has successfully converted four of its six generating units to run on sustainable biomass instead of coal. Drax’s Electric Insights collates data from Elexon, National Grid, and Sheffield Solar.

All of which serves as a striking comparison to Australia, which couldn’t muster a day without coal under any current or near-term scenarios – let alone a multitude of choices by which to view a coal free day.

Consider also that Great Britain is now making coal free a regular occurrence, rather than a notable exception. Looking back over the graphs breaking down the last few months of British coal generation is like looking at a grey-scale picture of the Alps – sure, there are regular peaks, but the gaps where coal is absent are becoming fewer, more frequent, and longer.

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