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Making history: Britain goes coal-free for the longest period since Industrial Revolution

Author : Sophia Bell, Assistant Editor, DPA

09 June 2020

Britain achieves a record-breaking two months of coal-free energy generation.

(Image: Shutterstock)

On 4 February 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government’s drive towards coal-free energy generation, stating, “In 1990, 70 percent of the power of this country came from coal. It’s now down to 3 per cent – and we want to get it to zero by 2024. We’re able to do that because this county is leading a revolution in renewable energy”.

At midnight on Wednesday 10 June, Britain will have officially passed a historic milestone – achieving two months of coal-free power generation – which sets it on track to meet the government’s 2024 target and proves the feasibility of a coal-free future.

Britain’s previous record was set in June 2019, wherein the country managed 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes without using coal to generate electricity.

A significant part of this latest achievement can be attributed to the impact of the pandemic. Since the lockdown was enforced on 23 March, Britain has seen a sharp decline in demand for energy.  

The move to renewable energy will help to tackle the climate change emergency. Doug Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace UK, told The Independent: “The rapid decline in such a polluting fuel is truly cause to celebrate. This achievement would once have been unimaginable, but the UK rightly took the chance to be a world leader in phasing out coal.

“That’s a lesson we must take with us as we seek to build a new economy when moving forward from the pandemic. There are plenty of other sectors where a green recovery offers us the chance to show similar leadership whilst creating jobs and truly tackling the climate emergency.”

Britain’s approach to energy generation has been transformed in recent years. Just ten years ago, wind and solar accounted for only 3% of the country’s electricity. “Now, the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, as well as the largest single wind farm, completed off the coast of Yorkshire last year,” stated the BBC.

Indeed, wind and solar are rapidly overtaking fossil fuels. “So far this year, renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that's never happened before,” Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief told the BBC.

“Renewables were responsible for 37% of electricity supplied to the network versus 35% for fossil fuels,” the BBC reported.

However, Andrew Cooper, Green Party energy spokesperson, stresses that the UK still needs to step up its game if it is to achieve a net-zero future. “Getting rid of coal is certainly part of the solution to tackling climate change but there is still a long way to go and we have not seen a clear plan from the government of how it intends to move things forward," he told The Independent. 

“We still get a large amount of electricity by burning gas, so we must see action to swiftly reduce the amount of energy we generate from this fossil fuel.”

On 1 June 2020, the National Grid was among more than 200 leading UK businesses which called upon the government to implement a COVID-19 recovery plan in line with its net-zero emission targets.

Combating the climate crisis and ensuring economic recovery go hand in hand. “We’ve estimated that the energy sector alone will need hundreds of thousands of new recruits as we work towards Net Zero and believe that an economic recovery with climate action at its heart will be key to unlocking these opportunities,” claimed National Grid CEO John Pettigrew.

Nonetheless, the move towards coal-free generation is certainly a step in the right direction in achieving a bright future that will allow the much-needed recovery of both the global economy and the planet.


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