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Dropping coal for gas

UK leads in ditching coal – but is also undergoing the biggest coal-to-gas switch in Europe
Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal fired power station Nottinghamshire UK

New analysis from Sandbag and Agora Energiewende shows EU power emissions fell 4.5% in 2016, primarily through a huge switch from coal generation to gas generation.

UK drops coal

Year-on-year, coal generation across Europe fell by 12%, whilst gas increased by 20%.

Half of this switch happened in the UK, as many coal plants permanently closed and a higher carbon price took effect.

Switches from coal to gas also happened in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece, in part from a temporary fall in gas price during 2016.

‘The UK is leading by example in Europe, with by far the biggest drop in coal usage. This bodes well for the UK’s official coal phaseout, which aims to take coal entirely out of UK energy generation by 2025.

‘But the UK is also undergoing the biggest coal-to-gas switch in Europe, which presents two risks. First, that in outgrowing one fossil fuel, we lock ourselves into another. Secondly, that other European countries follow suit.’

ClientEarth energy lawyer

Hope for renewables

Renewables increased only slightly (from 29.2 % to 29.6 % of the electricity mix) due to poor conditions and slower solar and biomass growth. Massive price falls in offshore wind and solar give hope of robust future growth.

Electricity consumption is no longer structurally falling, suggesting energy efficiency measure need to be stepped up.

‘Gas is a lower-carbon energy source than coal, but it will never be as clean as managing demand, investing in efficiency and switching to well-sited renewables. The laws the UK enacts to manage the transition from coal need to be decisive and progressive.

‘Keeping coal as a fallback and making gas dominant would not be a forward-looking policy, nor would it give certainty to clean energy investors. We anticipate great leadership from the UK government. The rest of Europe is watching.’

ClientEarth energy lawyer

The UK coal phaseout consultation closes on 08 February.

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