Is this the end of fossil fuels?
Midnight on Wednesday, June 9, 2020 saw Britain pass a major milestone as the nation went two full months without burning coal to generate power.
This takes us well past the record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes that was set in June last year, but how have we reached this point?
How has Britain gone coal-free for two months?
Just a decade ago, the burning of coal contributed to almost half of Britain’s electricity generation just ten years ago, but the country has just gone two months without relying on fossil fuels for energy generation.
The bad news is that lockdown has played a significant role.
Although domestic energy consumption has increased, as coronavirus has made the majority of the country housebound for the last couple months, overall energy demand has actually dropped by 20% during normal office hours as large and industrial energy users, like car plants and factories, have shut down.
As Britain went into lockdown, the National Grid responded to the drop in electricity demand by removing power plants from the network, with coal-fired plants being the first to go.
This has meant that no coal has been burned for electricity generation since April 9.
The good news is that the advance in renewable energy technology has also played a huge part.
The rise and rise of renewable energy
Just as coal-fired generators produced 40% of Britain’s electricity as recently as a decade ago, so renewable sources, including hydro, solar and wind, accounted for just 3% of generation.
Fast-forward to today and the UK can now not only boast the world’s biggest offshore wind industry, it also has the world’s largest offshore wind farm - the site at Walney, off the coast of Cumbria can generate enough energy to power 600,000 homes.
Furthermore, Drax in North Yorkshire, which generates 5% of the country's electricity, now generates more electricity through biomass than it does coal. Britain’s biggest power plant has a 2.6 GW capacity for biomass and 1.29 GW capacity for coal.
Biomass production, which relies on the burning of wood pellets, isn’t without its critics though, as wood actually produces more carbon dioxide per unit of power generated than coal when it is burnt to generate electricity.
But back to the good news.
Renewables overtake fossil fuels
There’s not been a great deal of positive news in 2020, but the growth of renewables is certainly something to shout about - so far this year, renewable energy sources have produced more electricity than all fossil fuels combined, being responsible for 37% of electricity supplied to the network compared to 35% for fossil fuels.
Nuclear has also played a part, accounting for 18% of electricity generation, with a further 10% being imported, according to figures from the online environmental journal, Carbon Brief.
The end of fossil fuels seems nigh, as three of Britain’s remaining coal-burning power plants are to be shut down within the next five years - it looks like were in good shape to cope with the change.
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