On Tuesday May 10th, Britain’s coal power plants were completely silent. Between midnight and 4am, not a single watt of British electricity came from coal. This hasn’t happened in 130 years.
This does not mean that the UK was 100% renewable, as has been seen recently in Portugal and several other countries. Rather the event was caused by a combination of cheaper gas, ever more efficient renewable energy, and the increased cost of carbon associate with the EU trading emission scheme. These have combined to make coal comparatively expensive.
Whilst this event is unique for now, it will become more and more common as the UK aims to phase out coal-power completely by 2025. Of all the fossil fuels, coal power has the dubious honour of being the most carbon intensive, and it accounts for 40% of world electricity supply.
As this transition happens, increased reliance on renewables will mean a more variable supply of electricity. This is because renewable sources such as solar and wind depend on environmental factors outside of anyone’s direct control. Overcoming this will mean implementing solutions such as demand management and better energy storage, without which energy provision could become precarious.
Whilst this shift in the UK is positive, looking around the world coal use remains prevalent and is still growing in India. However these developments in the UK do correspond to a recent overall global trend that has seen coal sharply declining in 2015.
Image credit: Simpleinsomnia
Carbon Brief (February 10th, 2016) Countdown to 2025: Tracking the UK coal phase out
International Energy Association (June 1st, 2016) Topics- Coal
Greenpeace International (November 9th, 2015) 2015: The year global consumption fell-off a cliff