It’s a dirty habit and one that is extremely hard to kick - the cheap, easily accessible hit that is coal-fired power. But the UK has managed to get through a whole day without burning coal for the first time in 140 years.

The country has managed shorter spells without coal before, but this is the first time it has got through 24 hours without turning to the black stuff - relying on gas-fired and renewable energy instead.

London was the site of the world’s first public coal-fired power plant in 1882. It quickly grew to be the main source of energy for all industrialised nations.

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Image: National Grid

So Friday April 21, 2017 marked a watershed moment in the history of coal-fired power generation and the milestone was announced via a tweet from the National Grid.

The National Grid said a mix of other sources provided enough electricity to keep the UK’s kettles on.

Half came from gas, a fifth came from nuclear and a little over a tenth from wind. Biomass and solar made up another tenth.

The UK also imported around 8% of its energy, mostly from France and the Netherlands.

A combination of factors made it possible to go without coal, including warmer weather which meant lower consumption.

Solar power

The coal milestone wasn’t the only energy record set in the UK recently.

On a particularly sunny Saturday in March, the demand for coal and gas-fired energy was, for the first time, lower in the afternoon than overnight. That’s because large amounts of solar energy were produced that day.

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Image: National Grid

Less than two weeks later, energy produced by solar power broke the 8 gigawatt (GW) barrier.

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Image: National Grid

The death of coal

The burning of coal, which releases large amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, has been in decline for many years.

According to analysis by Carbon Brief, in 2016, coal contributed less than a tenth of UK electricity, slightly less than wind.

In 2015, the UK Government announced plans to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025.

Coal is also on its way out elsewhere. A new study says that the number of coal-fired power plants under development worldwide dropped dramatically in 2016.

The Boom and Bust 2017 report, put together by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, says that work has frozen at over 100 projects in China and India. Around the globe, there has been a 62% decline in the construction of new plants.

There has also been a record-breaking 64 gigawatts of coal plant retirements in the past two years, mainly in the European Union and the US, said the report.