Nature and Biodiversity

Britain has gone coal-free for a week for the first time since the Industrial Revolution

A couple walk their dog on Redcar beach past an offshore wind farm in Redcar, northeast England January 11, 2015.  REUTERS/Andrew Yates  (BRITAIN - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ENERGY) - LM1EB1B106I01

The world's first coal-fuelled power plant was built in Britain in the late 19th century. Image: REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Susanna Twidale
Journalist, Reuters
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Britain, the birth place of coal power, has gone seven days without electricity from coal-fired stations for the first time since its 19th century industrial revolution, the country's power grid operator said on Wednesday.

Britain was home to the world's first coal-fuelled power plant in the 1880s, and coal was its dominant electric source and a major economic driver for the next century.

However, coal plants emit almost double the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) - a heat-trapping gas blamed for global warming - as gas-fired power plants, and were moved out of Britain's cities from the late 1950's to reduce air pollution.

As part of efforts to meet its climate target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared with 1990 levels in the next three decades, Britain plans to wean itself completely off coal-fired power generation by 2025.

Image: Our World in Data

Low power prices and levies on CO2 emissions have also made it increasingly unprofitable to run coal plants, especially when wind and solar power production are high.

The National Grid, Britain's power transmission network, said coal-free runs like the one this week would become a regular occurrence as more renewable energy entered the system.

Britain's independent climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, last week recommended that it deepen its climate target to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This would require even more renewable electricity production, an earlier phase out of new petrol and diesel cars, and lifestyle changes such as lower beef and lamb consumption.

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Britain's last deep-cast coal mine closed in North Yorkshire in 2015, marking the end of an era for an industry once employing 1.2 million people in nearly 3,000 collieries.

"Just a few years ago we were told Britain couldn't possibly keep the lights on without burning coal," said Doug Parr, policy director at environmental activist group Greenpeace.

"Now coal is quickly becoming an irrelevance, much to the benefit of our climate and air quality, and we barely notice it."

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sounded the death knell for the industry in the mid-1980s when she defeated a bitter year-long miners' strike against plans to close collieries and eliminate jobs.

Last year the government rejected plans from Banks Mining to develop a new coal mine in northeastern England on the grounds it could hamper efforts to curb climate change.

However, the company won a High Court challenge to fight the decision and the application is now back with the current local government minister, James Brokenshire.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityClimate ActionSustainable DevelopmentEnergy Transition
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