Britain Experiences First Coal-Free Day Since the Industrial Revolution

Britain hasn’t experienced a full day without coal power for over a century. But last week the National Grid announced that the UK had a 24-hour span in which its energy came from sources other than coal — a significant milestone in the fight to permanently retire coal-derived energy. 

The National Grid later put up a handy graphic on Twitter, confirming their day without coal-generated electricity on Friday, April 21:

The National Grid later offered up an average breakdown of the power sources that served as an alternative to coal. About half the energy was supplied by extracted gas and about a quarter came from nuclear power plants.

For many green energy advocates, this will, therefore, represent a qualified victory. After all, shale-derived gas, in particular, is still a problematic source of power.

That said, there were some positive aspects, as well. Wind and biomass energy, as well as some imported sources, constituted the remainder of the supply.

This isn’t the first time the UK has experienced a coal-free period. In May of 2016, there was a span of 19 hours in which the UK’s energy supply was not fed by coal power, and there have been shorter intervals since that time. However, this is the first full day of no coal power — and it is being treated as a significant event.

Ahead of the no-coal day, Paul Elkin of University College London told the BBC: “As recently as the late 1980s coal was supplying as much as 70% of UK electricity. We then had the dash for gas in the 1990s, with nuclear roughly contributing around 25%, and coal dropped below 50%.”

However, Gareth Redmond-King of WWF, while praising this important milestone, gives us context on the UK’s progress toward a green future, explaining:

Getting rid of coal from our energy mix is exciting and hugely important. But it’s not enough to achieve our international commitments to tackle climate change – we haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport. Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors.

Indeed, the UK has a significant way to go before it can be said to be making solid efforts to fight climate change.

The UK has pledged to eliminate coal-derived energy from the National Grid by 2025 and, as the latest figures show, it has made ample  strides toward that aim — but at a cost.

As the price of natural gas has decreased, it has begun to take the place of coal. However, research has shown that — despite seeming to offer a bridge fuel between dirty coal and green energy alternatives — shale-derived gas has a carbon footprint that can exceed coal.

In fact, natural gas has a footprint many times greater than that of naturally occurring gas that does not have to be extracted through hydraulic fracturing. Evidently, swapping coal for shale-derived gas will not be sufficient as a tactic to address climate change.

The UK’s Conservative government has also worked to undercut earlier green initiatives by slashing solar power subsidies and other green energy initiatives in favor of investing in nuclear power, for example. While nuclear power may be necessary as a bridge fuel, some experts claim that a ready availability of wind and solar energy exists and should be capitalized upon more fully.

However, it is not all bad news. Recent figures show that the UK’s renewable energy sector is making major strides. Estimates suggest that last year renewable energy companies in the wind and marine sector made close to £2billion, with energy exported to around 43 countries. And the contracts could be far higher, as these figures only represent a snapshot of disclosed deals.

While these statistics don’t directly translate into environmental gains yet, they demonstrate that green energy has the potential to be a powerful economic force. This may be a key point in convincing the UK’s Conservative leadership to quit nonrenewable sources for good.

So, while the first coal-free energy day in the UK doesn’t mean it is close to achieving its targets yet, it does signal a small but significant step in the right direction.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

72 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for posting

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Carl R
Carl R5 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Carl R
Carl R6 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Carl R
Carl R7 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Leanne K
Leanne K7 months ago

Wow how goid is that! Fabulous
(And about time!)

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Carl R
Carl R7 months ago

thanks!!!

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O7 months ago

I am so proud of you Great Britain, please continue the cleanest and right way for your country and the planet. Congratulations!

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Caitlin B
Caitlin B7 months ago

Good work Britain.

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Jess B
Jess B7 months ago

Thanks

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Carl R
Carl R7 months ago

thanks!!!!

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