National Grid, which owns and operates the electricity transmission network in England and Wales, has forecast that, in 2019, more of Britain’s power will be generated from zero-carbon sources than from fossil fuels for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.
Coal accounted for 2.5% of electricity generation in January to May this year, down from 30.4% in 2009 as a whole. This compares with 47.9% from nuclear, wind, solar and hydro power, which is up from 22.3% for the whole of 2009. However, coal and gas together covered 46.7% in the first five months of this year and 75.6% in 2009.
“This marks an historic achievement in Britain’s journey towards the UK government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050, demonstrating leadership in addressing a global challenge,” National Grid said today. “Reaching this landmark tipping point in Britain’s clean electricity generation has been achieved following a decade-long revolution in our power sources.”
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said that, today, the country had reached 1976 coal-free hours within six months, beating its previous record, for the whole of 2018, of 1975.5 hours. This means around 5 million tonnes of CO2 have been stripped from the atmosphere as a result of going 1976 hours without coal so far this year, it said.
Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Coal is fast becoming the fossil of our energy system and it will soon be confined to the history books. To ensure this happens as soon as possible, we have committed to phasing out coal entirely by 2025.”
Last week the UK became the first advanced economy to legislate for net-zero emissions, aiming to end its contribution to climate change by 2050. Between 1990 and 2017, the UK reduced its emissions by more than 40% while growing the economy by more than two-thirds, BEIS said.
Nuclear not gas
Although the government’s policy to phase out coal in the UK is clear, gas was the biggest single source of electricity generation last year, at 39%. Zero-carbon nuclear power supplied nearly one-fifth of Britain’s electricity, but the current fleet of reactor units will be retired by 2030 and Hinkley Point C in Somerset is the only new nuclear power plant under construction.
The UK’s Nuclear Industry Association said National Grid’s announcement will be “a landmark moment and a huge step on the road to tackling the climate change challenge”. Its CEO, Tom Greatrex, added however that achieving the government’s net-zero by 2050 target means that every form of low-carbon electricity generation “needs to pull its weight”.
“In the UK’s first ever week without coal-fired power, in May of this year, nuclear supplied over 50% of the UK’s domestically generated clean electricity,” Greatrex said. “There is a clear and urgent need to replace our aging fleet – which will be all but gone by 2030. With the right commitment in place, our industry can deliver a pipeline of affordable clean power, develop new technologies and create thousands of highly skilled jobs in the process.”
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