Could UK’s no-coal record increase focus on renewables?

Light bulb

At the time of writing, 28 April 2020 marks the day when Great Britain broke the record for the longest period of electricity generation without coal, energy data analyst EnAppSys has revealed.

The previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes was set on June 4, 2019. The new record is due to a reduction in the size of the available generation fleet and low demand due to the coronavirus pricing coal out of the market.

Currently only five coal-fired generation units are available to run in the UK with additional units due to become available through the year. The last one to run was unit 5 at Drax, near Selby, which switched off at 23:35 on April 9, 2020 – meaning that the record was surpassed at 05:45 on April 28, 2020.

Future of electricity generation

With the effects of the global lockdown having noticeable beneficial effects on the environment, this reduction in the use of fossil fuels has potential to increase both the future renewable focus as well as investment. The clear skylines seen in areas such as London, China and East India that were once cloaked in smog are certainly a strong incentive to go forward not back.

Movement away from fossil fuels in home heating and transport in the UK, is something that industry trade bodies, including the Sustainable Energy Association, are supportive of, with calls for alternative fuels as well as appropriate government legislation to enforce their use,.

Transformation of the power industry

“The rapid reduction in use of coal in Britain has been due to the introduction of the carbon price support which has made coal uneconomical except when prices are high (typically in the winter) or when National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has a need for a certain power station at a certain point in the network. This reduction of coal alongside the build-out of renewables has resulted in a reduction of CO2 intensity of electricity production from around 450g/kWh in 2010 to around a third of that at 150g/kWh.” Explains Phil Hewitt, director of EnAppSys.

GB Fuel mix from 2010 with marginal CO2 intensity

“The speed of transformation of the power industry and the ending of its long relationship with coal has been one of the stories of the UK’s transformation into a green energy pioneer. It is difficult to see why any coal stations should run again at this time as the low demand due to the coronavirus crisis continues along with the low prices of summer. This year should be the first year with a coal-free month since coal was first used to create electricity continuously in London by Thomas Edison at 57 Holborn Viaduct in 1882.”