Update: Britain goes more than one week with no coal generation – the new “normal”

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Update: Adoption of solar by British households and more wind energy helps keep coal out of grid for more than one week, government hails it as new normal.

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FF4HF2 Black Law Wind Farm, near Forth, Lanarkshire, Scotland UK.
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Britain continues to undermine the conventional wisdom that coal-generated electricity is vital for modern economies to function. A fortnight after Great Britain went over 90 hours without generating electricity from coal-fired power stations over Easter, the country has gone and done it again.

The UK Coal Twitter account reports “continuous hours without coal” surpassed 168 hours – one whole week – on Wednesday night UK time, smashing the previous record set over the Easter weekend just past. By 9am AEST on Thursday, the run had extended to 177 hours.A spokesman for UK Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark in the UK’s Tory government emailed RenewEconomy to say:

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. 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.

“We lead the world when it comes to tackling climate change and we want to carry on breaking records, which is why we’ve put foundations in place to allow our renewables sector to thrive. We’re now on a path to become the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions.”

Fintan Slye, the head of the National Grid, which runs the grid, told media in the UK: “I predict it will become the ‘new normal’.”

That’s not the sort of thing you get to hear from Australia’s conservative government, whose prime minister and ministers take pride in brandishing lumps of coal in parliament, and singing the praises of the technology at ever opportunity.

Earlier, a spokesperson for National Grid, the country’s grid operator, confirmed to various British news agencies on Monday and Tuesday that coal-fired electricity generation had been absent from the British electrical grid for over 100 hours.

“We broke the record this weekend for the longest period of time without coal,” said Sean Kemp, spokesman for National Grid. “It’s becoming a more regular occurrence now. More people have installed solar, more coal is coming off and there’s more wind in the system.”

It is well known that coal is becoming less and less important in Great Britain’s electricity mix, now accounting for under 10% of the country’s power output, and on track for the Government’s planned phase-out by 2025.

Further, we regularly find ourselves reporting on this record-breaking “hours without coal” stories – as happened after Easter weekend a fortnight ago. By the end of that record-breaking period, the British electricity market had gone nearly 91 hours without coal. Duncan Burt, director of operations at National Grid, told BBC Radio 5 Live then that 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.”

This is on the heels of records set a year ago in April 2018, when 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 hours without coal-fired electricity generation.

According to the UK National Grid “UK Coal” Twitter account – which provides regular hourly updates of coal’s contribution to the Great British National Grid – of the 36.75 GW currently being generated by the country’s energy mix, coal has remained absent for 146 continuous hours, and counting.

This is backed up by Drax Electric Insights’ tracking – providing data courtesy of Elexon, National Grid, and Sheffield Solar – which similarly shows that coal has been absent from Great Britain’s energy mix since May 2 at around midnight.

 

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