Britain set for first coal-free day since Industrial Revolution

National Grid expects the UK to reach coal energy ‘watershed’ on Friday in what will also be the country’s first 24-hour coal-free period

Uniper AG's Ratcliffe On Soar coal power plant

The UK is set to have its first ever working day without coal power generation since the Industrial Revolution, according to the National Grid.

The control room tweeted the predicted milestone on Friday, adding that it is also set to be the first 24-hour coal-free period in Britain.

The UK has had shorter coal-free periods in 2016, as gas and renewables such as wind and solar play an increasing role in the power mix. The longest continuous period until now was 19 hours – first achieved on a weekend last May, and matched on Thursday.

NG Control Room @NGControlRoom tweets:

“It looks likely that today will be the first ever working day in Britain without #coal since the industrial revolution!”

Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate – sent direct to you

 

A National Grid spokesman said the record low is a sign of things to come, with coal-free days becoming increasingly common as the polluting fuel is phased out.

Coal has seen significant declines in recent years, accounting for just 9% of electricity generation in 2016, down from around 23% the year before, as coal plants closed or switched to burning biomass such as wood pellets.

Britain’s last power station will be forced to close in 2025, as part of a government plan to phase out the fossil fuel to meet its climate change commitments.

Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, said: “The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition. A decade ago, a day without coal would have been unimaginable, and in 10 years’ time our energy system will have radically transformed again.

“The direction of travel is that both in the UK and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy. It is a clear message to any new government that they should prioritise making the UK a world leader in clean, green, technology.”

Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate and energy at WWF, called the first coal-free working day “a significant milestone in our march towards the green economic revolution”.

“Getting rid of coal from our energy mix is exciting and hugely important. But it’s not enough to achieve our international commitments to tackle climate change – 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.” Redmond-King said.

Britain became the first country to use coal for electricity when Thomas Edison opened the Holborn Viaduct power station in London in 1882. It was reported in the Observer at the time that “a hundred weight of coal properly used will yield 50 horse power for an hour.” And that each horse power “will supply at least a light equivalent to 150 candles”.