Great Britain heads for record coal-free period during lockdown

England, Scotland and Wales on brink of two-month milestone, longest period since 1880s, says National Grid

Great Britain will on Wednesday be able to celebrate not having generated any coal-powered electricity for two months – the longest period since the 1880s.

Great Britain, which introduced coal-powered electricity to the world in the 1880s, has run its electricity network without burning coal since midnight on 9 April, according to National Grid.

A collapse in energy demand because of the coronavirus lockdown and the sunniest May on record has enabled the country to increase its reliance on solar power and other renewable energy sources such as wind.

“The exact two-month mark is midnight tonight (00:00 on Wednesday 10 June), which will mark 61 days (or 1,464 hours) since the last coal generator came off the system,” a spokesman for National Grid’s Electricity System Operator said.

The coal-free period beats the previous record of 18 days, six hours and 10 minutes set in June 2019. The figures apply to Great Britain – England, Wales and Scotland – only, as Northern Ireland is not part of National Grid.

Low power prices caused by reduced industrial demand, because of the lockdown and levies on carbon emissions, has made it increasingly unprofitable to run coal-fired power stations.

Great Britain hopes to close all coal plants by 2024 as part of efforts to reach the government’s net zero emissions goal by 2050.

Coal plants emit almost double the amount of carbon dioxide – a key cause of global heating – as gas-fired power plants. A decade ago, about 40% of the country’s electricity came from coal.

Use of renewable power, such as wind and solar, has soared during the lockdown as it often has lower running costs than gas and coal plants and there have been favourable weather conditions.

May was the greenest-ever month for electricity production, with the lowest average carbon intensity on record at 143 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, National Grid said. Carbon intensity is a measure of how much carbon dioxide is emitted for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced.

Renewable energy use has also overtaken coal in the US for the first time in more than 130 years. The US government said renewables overtook coal as the primary energy source in 2019. Coal had been the main energy source for the US every year since it surpassed wood in 1885.

• This article was amended on 10 June 2020 because an earlier version referred to Great Britain “not having used any coal-powered electricity for two months”. That should have said not having generated any coal-powered electricity.


Rupert Neate

The GuardianTramp

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