UK has first working day without coal since the industrial revolution
Post Date: 21 April 2017
National Grid has announced via Twitter that today was likely to be the first working day since the Industrial Revolution that the UK was powered without coal, demonstrating the success of its transition from dirty coal to gas-powered electricity generation.
The majority of electricity in Britain now comes from combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) at 47.68 per cent, with nuclear power at 18 per cent, wind power 13.14 per cent, and much smaller amounts from other renewables such as hydro and biomass.
Coal usage previously dropped to zero one night last year - a time when demand is low. This is the first time it has happened during the working day.
David Elmes, Head of the WBS Global Energy Research Network at Warwick Business School said: "Coal has been a vital part of the UK over my lifetime, and due recognition to the people who made that happen, but this is an exciting step in the huge transition the UK is making to an electricity system that’s still affordable and reliable but more sustainable through using gas rather than coal.
“There are still challenges and opportunities ahead. Using less coal is not just about changing the fuel used in power stations, it’s a shift in the way we generate, store and use energy from big centralised solutions like large power stations and the national network of pylons and cables we use to move electricity around. We already see a move to more local, distributed ways that energy is made and used, in our homes, communities and in industry.”
Professor Elmes’ colleague, Michael Bradshaw, Professor of Global Energy, added:: "The current Government is amid a consultation about its intention to remove coal completely by 2025; but it seems that it may well be gone before then. However, this begs the question what will replace that coal in the power generation mix? The Government talks of the need for ‘new’ gas power generation and is concerned that the current capacity mechanism is not incentivising sufficient investment.
"The reason for this is that there is considerable uncertainty over the future role of gas in UK power generation. In 2015 power generation accounted for 22.2% of UK gas demand, the household sector 30.2% and industry 20.2%. A study by UKERC on the future role of natural gas in the UK highlights the complexities surrounding the role of gas in the ongoing low carbon transition.
"Natural gas is a fossil fuel, but when burned to generate electricity it produces about half the amount of carbon dioxide that would be emitted from coal. However, the future trajectory of the UK’s energy mix is constrained by the Climate Change Act (2008) and its commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% over 1990 levels by 2050. This requires the almost total decarbonisation of the energy system. With coal gone from the power generation mix by 2025 at the latest, gas becomes the high-carbon fuel in the mix.
"There are two possible paths if natural gas is to remain part of the solution, rather than the next problem. The first would be to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to significantly reduce the emissions of gas power generation. But the Government cancelled its support CCS back in November 2015, for ‘purely fiscal reasons.’ Hopefully, support for CCS will form part of the new Industrial Strategy.
"The second path is to ‘decarbonise’ natural gas itself, but using methane to produce hydrogen requires CCS and the other options - biogas and biomethane - are unlikely to provide a large-scale solution."