On the night before Earth Day, it was confirmed that Britain had experienced its first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution.
National Grid predicted on the morning of Friday 21 April that the UK looked set to go 24 hours without using coal to generate electricity. By 11pm the achievement was confirmed, as the share of electricity drawn from our dwindling coal plants remained at zero.
Britain experienced shorter periods of coal-free power in 2016, but this was the first full working day since 1882 – the year Britain’s first large coal-fired generator opened – during which none of our electricity came from burning coal.
Just under half of our energy came from natural gas and a quarter came from nuclear plants, according to Grid Watch. Wind accounted for around a tenth of the mix.
WWF called Friday ‘a significant milestone in our march towards the green economic revolution’, and Greenpeace said it marked ‘a watershed in the energy transition’.
Just two years ago the fossil fuel accounted for 23% of electricity generated in the UK, though last year the share dropped to just 9% – and the government pledged to phase out coal power plants by 2025.
‘It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritise making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology. They will need to get on with the coal phase-out plan and recognise the economic potential of renewable energy and energy efficiency. We can meet the UK’s needs for skilled jobs and fair bills, whilst also meeting our climate targets.’
Head of energy at Greenpeace UK
Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF, said that renewables now account for a quarter of all the UK’s electricity – though the share’s higher in Scotland – and that the UK’s environmental goods and services sector is worth £29 billion to the economy, supporting nearly 400,000 full-time jobs.
While he acknowledges that getting rid of coal from our energy mix is ‘exciting and hugely important’, he stresses that it’s not enough to achieve our international commitments to tackle climate change – and that we haven’t made anything like the same progress on decarbonising buildings and transport.
‘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.’
Head of climate and energy at WWF
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