Energy Transition

The UK is on a record-breaking run of coal-free power

An engineer stands on top of a coal seam at UK Coal's Cutacre surface mine near Bolton, northern England April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Walking away from coal. Image: REUTERS/Phil Noble

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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The UK is close to powering itself without coal for two straight weeks.

That’s remarkable when you consider it’s just two years since the UK National Grid’s first coal-free 24 hours. It follows a government announcement last year that it plans to shut the country’s remaining coal-fired power stations by the middle of the next decade.

The following chart, created by the Guardian using data from Gridwatch, shows the changing nature of power generation in the UK – and the record-breaking run.

Image: The Guardian

Coal loses its crown

Coal has seen a rapid decline in the UK. As recently as 2012, it produced 40% of the country’s electricity, figures from Carbon Brief show. By last year this was down to just 5%.

Image: Carbon Brief

The rise of renewable and low-carbon sources have driven this change, with wind in particular increasing at a rate of knots.

The largest single source, however, remains a fossil fuel. Gas accounted for some 40% last year.

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Still work to be done

The UK still has a way to go to catch up with some of its European neighbours, though.

Eurostat data from 2017 (the latest available year) shows that in terms of final energy consumption, the share of renewable sources was highest in Sweden, followed by Finland and Latvia.

Image: Eurostat

Those countries, and eight others, had reached their 2020 target by 2017. By contrast, the UK was one of the countries furthest away from this target.

Overall, the share of energy from renewable sources has more than doubled in the EU since 2004.

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