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Record coal-free power run comes to an end

Britain’s grid went almost 68 days without power from the polluting fossil fuel in the face of lower demand and rising renewables.

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Britain’s coal-free run came to an end after Drax ran tests following maintenance (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Britain’s coal-free run came to an end after Drax ran tests following maintenance (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Britain’s coal-free run came to an end after Drax ran tests following maintenance (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Britain’s record-breaking run without coal-fired power has come to an end after more than two months.

National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said the coal-free run lasted 67 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes before ending on Tuesday night due to a coal power unit running tests after essential maintenance.

By the time it ended, the coal-free run had far outstripped the previous record for the length of time Britain had gone without the fossil fuel – 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes, set in June last year.

It is the longest period the British grid has gone without electricity from coal since 1882.

In recent months, lockdown measures have seen a drop in power demand, while increasing levels of renewables have helped squeeze out coal.

Over the period of the coal-free run, renewables made up the biggest share of the mix, generating nearly 36% of power, while gas provided around 33%, and nuclear 21%, analysis by climate and energy website Carbon Brief shows.

The polluting fossil fuel has played an increasingly small role in Britain’s power mix in recent years, with a Government target to phase it out altogether by 2024, and saw its share of generation fall to just 2% last year.

National Grid ESO said it is planning to be able to operate the grid for periods without any fossil fuels, including gas, by 2025.

The coal-free run ended after Drax in North Yorkshire carried out tests on one of its units which required it to generate power.

Drax said essential maintenance had been carried out on one of its coal generating units “as is usual during the spring and summer months when demand is lower, and the coal units are not required to run”.

In a statement, the company said: “Following the completion of this work, we need to make sure the unit is performing well, ready for the winter when demand for power increases and the coal units are expected to run.

“As a result, tests are being carried out now which require the unit to generate power.”

Drax will stop generating power using coal in March 2021, though its two coal units will remain available until September 2022.

There are just two other coal-fired power plants still on the system.

PA