top of page

UK enjoys a month without coal power for first time for 138 years

The United Kingdom’s rapid decarbonisation of its electricity grid has achieved another significant milestone – completing a whole month (30 days) without coal power for the first time in 138 years.

The milestone was reached on Sunday (UK) time and celebrated by National Grid ESO, the organisation that runs the grid and is responsible for keeping the lights on. It was the first time this occurred since coal power was first used on the UK power system in January, 1882, at Holborn Viaduct.

Within a few years, there will be no coal generation at all – with the remaining plants shuttered, and one or two converted to gas by 2025. National Grid aims to be able to operate a fully zero emission grid when weather conditions allow from 2025, and is accelerating its adoption of new technologies and management systems that will allow it to side line gas power plants when possible.

Just a few days before the new month-long coal-free milestone, National Grid released its latest end of year planning report outlining the main achievements it has made in the long path to a fully decarbonised grid before 2050.

“We’re really proud of our zero carbon targets,” National Grid wrote in a blog a few days earlier. “In May 2019 there was a 2-week period where there was coal free operation of Great Britain’s electricity system. This has quickly been beaten after the record breaking sunlight in April.”

It noted that the carbon intensity of the electricity system has halved over the last five years, and is down 60 per cent when compared to 2013. “The recent low demand for energy due to COVID-19 has dramatically reduced the use of fossil fuel based generation, and this has been supported by our optimised renewable generation,” it notes.

“And as supply changes, so to does demand. as renewables capacity and smart grid functionality increases further to enable the side-lining of gas power plants when possible.”

Demand is changing, and one of the challenges is the bigger “ramping” events when demand can suddenly jump or fall, often due to major events.

On Sunday, apart from reaching the coal-free milestone, National Grid ESO reported a record 2,000MW drop off in demand, followed by a 700MW rebound, which became immediately before and immediately after a televised speech on Covid-19 policies delivered by prime minister Boris Johnston.

“This was even bigger than the 1,600MW to watch Wills and Kate walk down the aisle,” the National Grid tweeted.

RenewEconomy and its sister sites One Step Off The Grid and The Driven will continue to publish throughout the Covid-19 crisis, posting good news about technology and project development, and holding government, regulators and business to account. But as the conference market evaporates, and some advertisers pull in their budgets, readers can help by making a voluntary donation here to help ensure we can continue to offer the service free of charge and to as wide an audience as possible. Thank you for your support.



bottom of page