Britain goes record 18 days without burning coal for electricity as lockdown cuts energy use

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Britain is cutting its reliance on coal power (Getty)

Britain has broken the record for the longest run without using coal to generate electricity, driven in part by lockdown measures

Windy and sunny weather has driven renewable energy such as wind and solar power to new heights, enabling grid operators to avoid using coal. 

Over the 18 days up until Tuesday, more than a third of Britain’s power was generated by renewables, according to analysis by Carbon Brief.

In April 2020 to date, power demand has been almost a fifth lower (18%) than it was in the same period last year.

Read more: Large-scale solar power set for double-digit growth

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation in Great Britain in April are down more than a third (34%) compared to what they were for the same period last year and are down more than half (51%) on the five-year average, according to energy and climate website Carbon Brief.

The record was broken at 6.10am on Tuesday, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said.

It marked more than 438 hours and 10 minutes since the last coal generator came off the system at midnight on Thursday 9 April.

The previous record of 18 days, six hours and 10 minutes was set in June last year.

The measures to shut down the country to prevent the spread of coronavirus have seen an increase in domestic consumption, as people stay home, but that has been outweighed by reduced industrial demand.

Read more: Wind power surges as coal use colapses in Britain

Renewables have seen record levels of generation, with a new record set for solar power of 9.68 gigawatts of power from solar panels at 1.30pm on Monday, 20 April.

Analysis by Carbon Brief has calculated that during the record coal-free run, renewables have been the largest source of electricity, producing 37% of Britain’s power.

Coal 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.

Fintan Slye, director of ESO, said: “2020 is shaping up to be a record-breaking year for Great Britain’s electricity system, and I’ve little doubt we’ll see more exciting developments as the growth and performance of renewables continues to transform our grid at an astonishing rate.

“Within a matter of days we’ve seen a new solar generation record, and the longest period of coal-free operation in Britain.”

Earlier in the year, February became the greenest month on record for UK electricity generation, with the average amount of carbon pollution per kilowatt hour of power consumed falling to new lows.

Slye said milestones like the latest coal-free run show Great Britain is leading the world in the shift to “net zero”, where greenhouse gas emissions are cut to zero overall.