On Wednesday 10th June 2020, the country will have gone two whole months without burning coal to generate energy, a significant moment. Only 10 years ago, around 40% of the UK’s electricity was sourced from coal. The coronavirus pandemic has played an important role in this change.
When the nation entered lockdown during the last week of March, demand for electricity plummeted. The National Grid took action by shutting down power plants connected to its network. The only four remaining coal-fired plants were some of the first to be shut down. As more and more people worked from home, business energy usage decreased by an unparalleled amount.
On 9th April, the last coal generator was also taken offline. Since then, no coal has been burnt to produce electricity. A new report has also urged energy suppliers to eschew coal plants for renewables.
The previous record for being coal-free was 18 days and 6 hours, this latest period has far surpassed that record set in June 2019. It is worth noting that these figures only apply to Britain, as Northern Ireland is not connected to the National Grid. However, it does showcase a pronounced shift in our energy system.
Large investment in renewable energy over the past decade has demonstrated that we’re capable of managing without fossil fuels, especially when you consider that coal and oil are staple fuel sources in our society’s history. There are two prime examples that show how much the UK’s energy networks have changed.
Wind and solar only accounted for 3% of the country’s electricity generation in 2010. Currently, the UK has the largest offshore wind industry in the world, in addition to having the largest single wind farm, making it the global leader.
Drax, who has the country’s biggest power plant, generates 5% of the country’s electricity. In 2010, it was the largest consumer of coal in the country but has been shifting its approach to compressed wood pellets.
Will Gardiner, the chief executive of the group, explains that: "We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future, it has been a massive undertaking and then the result of all that is we've reduced our CO2 emissions from more than 20 million tonnes a year to almost zero."
Gardiner states that the plant now makes use of seven million tonnes of pellets a year sourced from commercial forests in the US. Additionally, the company hopes to phase out coal completely by March 2021. Drax Group has also recently offered free energy to 170 care homes.
Coal isn’t the only fuel type that has been eclipsed. In 2020, renewables have generated more power than all fossil fuels combined. A remarkable achievement. The figures show that renewables were responsible for 37% of electricity supplied to the network in comparison to fossil fuels which supplied 35% of the total. Nuclear accounted for around 18% and imports contributed the remaining 10%, this is according to figures from Carbon Brief, an online environmental journal.
Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, says that: "So far this year renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that's never happened before. With gas also in decline, there's a real chance that renewables will overtake fossil fuels in 2020 as a whole."
This is big news for domestic customers too, as more and more energy suppliers in the UK shift to sustainable fuel sources, competition will only increase. Ultimately, leading to better deals.