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Multiple coal-fired power plants have been closed over the past year

Coal's share in UK electricity generation drops to six per cent

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Only six per cent of electrical energy used in the UK this spring was generated using polluting coal, data from the UK Department of Business and Energy has revealed.

The spring of 2015, for comparison, saw 20 per cent of the electricity demand being covered by energy from coal-fired power plants. The decrease in coal-fired electricity generation is largely due to the closures of multiple power plants, including Ferrybridge C in West Yorkshire and Longannet coal-fired power station in Scotland. In addition, a unit at Drax, North Yorkshire, has switched from coal to biomass. 

The majority of the drop in coal use was covered by gas-fired electricity generation, which increased to 45 per cent from 30 per cent last year. Surprisingly, the share of renewable electricity has also decreased, albeit marginally. Renewables covered a little under 25 per cent of the electricity demand in the period between April and June 2016. The drop has been attributed to lower wind speeds and rainfall, which affected wind turbine output and hydropower. 

Overall, 46 per cent of the electricity demand was covered by low carbon sources of electricity such as renewables and nuclear. The decrease in coal use is in line with the UK government’s policy to completely phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2025. 

"As clean technology advances, Britain is bidding farewell to coal," commented Juliet Davenport, chief executive of renewable energy supplier Good Energy. "The transition to a 100 per cent renewable future is within Britain's grasp." 

There were several moments this spring where the amount of electricity generated by coal fell to zero for the first time since the 19th century. Over the course of April, more power was generated from wind than from coal and in May solar panels outstripped coal-fired power stations to generate more electricity across the month than the fossil fuel. 

Official figures reveal that greenhouse gas emissions were down 1.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the previous three months, as a result of the large switch from coal to gas for electricity in the spring. 

Emissions for the year ending in the second quarter of 2016 were down almost six per cent on the previous year, once the impact of warmer temperatures was taken into account. 

Data from Beis also reveals that by the end of August some 11 gigawatts (GW) of solar panels had been installed across 886,523 schemes from household arrays to huge solar farms. The figure was up 30 per cent on August 2015, but installation of new capacity has largely stalled in the wake of curbs on subsidies for the renewable power, the figures show.

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