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'Historic turning point' as electricity from coal hit zero during week

Published 13/05/2016

Drax power station has partially switched to burning biomass
Drax power station has partially switched to burning biomass

The amount of electricity generated from coal in the UK has fallen to zero several times in the past week, grid data shows.

In what green energy supporters have described as a "historic turning point" for the UK's power system, there have been periods this week when no electricity was generated from coal for the first time since the 19th century.

Analysis also shows renewables on the rise, with April the first month ever when power from wind farms outstripped coal, and last week seeing solar generate more electricity over a week than the fossil fuel for the first time.

Coal-fired electricity generation fell to zero coal late on Monday night and for early hours of Tuesday morning, according to data from BM Reports.

On Thursday, there was no electricity from coal for more than half the day, with it making no contribution to the UK's power supplies late at night when demand was low and for a period in the day, the data shows.

It is thought to be the first time the UK has been without electricity from coal since the world's first centralised public coal-fired generator opened at Holborn Viaduct in London, in 1882, according to the Carbon Brief website which reports on climate science and energy policy.

The record lows in coal power generation come as the UK enters the summer months, which sees lower demand for electricity, and with more than half of the country's coal capacity out of action, for example for planned maintenance.

But there have also been recent closures of coal-fired power plants as they become less economic, while plants such as Drax, North Yorkshire, have partially switched to burning "biomass".

The Government has said it wants to see coal phased out by 2025, as it is the most polluting way of generating electricity.

There has also been an increase in the amount of renewables in the system, with a record 27% of the UK's power coming from sources such as wind in the last quarter of 2015.

Estimates of the power now being generated from solar panels, from household arrays to large scale farms, also show it is regularly outstripping coal during the day, reaching 6.8 gigawatts at a midday peak this week compared to a high of 3GW output from coal.

Solar is limited to generating power during the day, but analysis from Carbon Brief found that over the course of a week, the clean technology produced more power last week than coal.

Coal also slipped behind wind power in April in another first for the UK, with the amount of electricity generated from the renewable technology outstripping power from the fossil fuel over the course of the month.

Last month 2,290 gigawatt hours of power was generated from wind, compared to 1,755 gigawatt hours from coal, according analysis of National Grid data by independent analysts EnAppSys.

Industry body RenewableUK's deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: "We've reached a historic point where wind energy is outperforming coal. April was the first month in the UK's history in which wind provided more of our power than coal.

"The Government has said that in future our electricity needs to come from nuclear, gas and renewables, and the fact that wind has now leapfrogged coal shows that we are delivering on this ambition."

Juliet Davenport, chief executive of renewable electricity supplier Good Energy said: "This week marks an historic turning point for energy in the UK.

"Coal formed the backbone of the industrial revolution and was the fuel that powered Britain into the 21st century. But it's time to begin to say farewell.

"Our energy is becoming cleaner and greener, with wind, solar and other renewables generating more of our electricity than ever before. We are celebrating this news as it shows that our future can be fossil fuel-free."

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