Coal use has been declining in Britain over the last couple of years, but today could mark another major landmark. Right now there is no electricity from coal going into the national grid. There hasn’t been any all day, and if it continues this way, it’ll be Britain’s first day without coal power since the industrial revolution.
Quite something, no? The National Grid certainly think so, and news stories are proliferating this lunchtime.
It’s been fascinating to watch the transition here. In 2014 we were still getting 40% of our electricity from coal. The rush of fracked gas in the US drove America to use more gas and less coal. That pushed down the price of coal on the global markets, and Britain started using more of it. Much of that coal came from Russia, an almost unnoticed dependence on the country at the very moment they were invading Crimea.
Things have moved fast since then. Gas has remained competitive, renewable energy is ever cheaper, and the market for coal has almost collapsed. It’ll tick along for a while longer no doubt, but the government’s plans to phase out coal by 2025 suddenly look rather modest. With coal at 0% and solar at 9% today, Gridwatch are going to have to re-design their web display.
The decline in coal use in Britain is the main reason why our national carbon emissions have fallen so steeply in the last couple of years. There’s much to celebrate in that, especially since a reduction in coal power is good for air pollution too.
The next challenge? Almost half the grid is still fossil fuels, in the form of gas. It’s a whole lot better than coal, but not sustainable or compatible with climate goals. That’s a much bigger task. Then we’ve got heating, which is still mostly gas. And transport, where oil is king and almost no progress is being made. So, a bit of a landmark day perhaps, but one stepping stone on a long road towards decarbonisation.