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Britain powered 24 hours without coal for first time in 135 years in 'watershed moment'

National Grid says it could happen more often in future 

Chloe Farand
Saturday 22 April 2017 19:54 BST
Smoke rises from the cooling towers of Cottam coal-fired power station, near Darlton, Nottinghamshire
Smoke rises from the cooling towers of Cottam coal-fired power station, near Darlton, Nottinghamshire (AFP/Getty)

The UK’s first 24 hours without using coal as part of its energy mix has been hailed “a watershed” moment.

For the first time since the industrial revolution, the country fulfilled all of its energy needs without using coal for a full day. It is bound to happen more frequently, the National Grid said.

Around half of energy came from natural gas and about a quarter came from nuclear plants, according to Grid Watch. Wind, biomass and imported energy made up the difference.

A combination of factors, including warmer weather which led consumers to reduce their energy use, made it possible, a National Grid spokeswoman told The Independent.

Last year the Government pledged to phase out all coal power plants by 2025.

Older power plants have also closed in recent years and solar and wind energy are providing a growing proportion of electricity to homes and the industrial sector.

According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, the UK generated more electricity from wind than from coal in 2016. It reported coal generation collapsed last year, contributing just 9.2 per cent of the energy mix, while wind made up 11.5 per cent.

The National Grid’s energy control room said it had ran without coal for up to 19 hours on 20 April but Friday was the first time they managed a full 24 hours since the world’s first centralised public coal-fired generator opened in 1882 at Holborn Viaduct, in London.

A spokeswoman from the National Grid said: “More power generation stations are shutting down and this mean Britain’s energy mix is more diversified, which is a good thing for the country.

“We are expecting to be repeating this more frequently as we head towards ending our reliance on coal.”

She added the National Grid was unable to predict when another day without coal would happen again since its role is to balance energy supply and demand on a day-to-day and minute-by-minute basis.

Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace, said the first day without coal was “a watershed in the energy transition”.

Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF, said the day was “a significant milestone in our march towards a green economic revolution”.

He said renewable energy accounted for a quarter of electricity in the UK, a proportion which is higher in Scotland, and that the UK’s environmental good and services sector supported an estimated 400,000 full-time jobs.

But Mr Redmond-King said getting rid of coal in the energy mix was not enough to meet the UK’s international commitments to tackle climate change.

“We haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport,” he said. “Whoever forms the next government after the general election, they must prioritise a plan for reducing emissions from all sectors – which shows how the UK will continue to develop these changes and guarantee an environmentally clean and economically successful future for the UK.”

This comes amid concerns over the Government’s ability to deliver a clean air plan to tackle illegal pollution levels in UK cities due to rules restricting the activities of the civil service during an election period.

After a legal challenge by environmental lawyers Client Earth last year, the Government was ordered by the High Court to produce a draft of a new national air quality plan by 24 April.

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