Sustainable Energy

18 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and counting: Britain hits a new record for coal-free electricity generation

Key Points
  • As a source of power, coal's importance in Britain is starting to fade.
  • In a sign of how times are changing, this year has already seen a number of coal plants close their doors.
Cooling towers at the decommisioned Willington Power Station, England, on October 29, 2018.
Paul Ellis | AFP | Getty Images

A new record has been set for coal-free electricity generation in Great Britain, with a combination of factors — including coronavirus related lockdown measures — playing a role.

On Tuesday morning, electricity system operator National Grid ESO said that all electricity generated in Britain had been produced without coal for a new record of 18 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes.  

"The previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes — set in June last year — was broken at 6.10am this morning, marking over 438 hours and 10 minutes since the last coal generator came off the system at midnight on Thursday 9 April," the company said.

The milestone comes after Britain's highest level of solar powered electricity, some 9.68 gigawatts, was generated on April 20.

In a statement, the operator explained that both weather (which affects solar and wind generation) and reduced levels of electricity demand had played a role in determining Britain's electricity mix.

A national lockdown, in place since the end of March to try and tackle the coronavirus pandemic, had resulted in a "significant reduction in demand across the country, with an increase in domestic consumption being outweighed by reduced industrial demand," National Grid ESO said in a statement.

This change, alongside "frequent" spells of sunny and windy weather, were all described as contributing factors to why coal generation was not required over recent weeks.

"Renewables will continue to grow rapidly to meet the U.K.'s target of net zero emissions; offshore wind alone will generate over 30% of UK power by 2030," Melanie Onn, the deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

"Alongside other low cost options like onshore wind, there are huge opportunities for innovative technologies like marine energy, floating wind, battery storage and renewable hydrogen to accelerate the U.K.'s transition to net zero."

As a source of power, coal's importance in Britain is starting to fade. According to the government, "reliance on coal for electricity" has fallen from 70% in 1990 to under 3% today.

Authorities are aiming to remove coal from Britain's energy system by 2025 and recently announced they would consult on moving that deadline to October 1, 2024.

In a sign of how times are changing, this year has already seen several coal plants in Europe close their doors.

Two coal-fired facilities in the U.K., operated by SSE and RWE, shut down on the same day at the end of March, while Austria's last operational coal-fired power station closed earlier this month.

In February, energy firm Drax said coal-fired electricity production at the U.K.'s largest power plant was expected to end in March 2021.