Britain is about to meet a landmark energy consumption milestone on Wednesday, June 10, reaching two months of coal-free power generation.
This will mark the longest period of time Britain has gone without using fossil fuel since the days of the industrial revolution, breaking the previously held record of 18 days, six hours and ten minutes, set in June 2019.
The record is partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, with halted manufacturing and widespread home-working seeing demand for electricity fall by an average of 15% to 20%. However, this is also due to other factors, such as increased contribution from renewable energy sources and warm weather.
Once Britain entered lockdown, demand for electricity dropped, leading the National Grid to remove power plants from the network, with the four remaining coal-fired plants being among the first to close.
The last coal generator was removed from the system at midnight, April 9. Since then, there has been no burning of coal in Britain. Northern Ireland has not been included in these figures as it is not on the National Grid.
A spokesperson for National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) said, via :
The exact two month mark is midnight tonight (00:00 on Wednesday 10 June), which will mark 61 days (or 1,464 hours) since the last coal generator came off the system.
Renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, have risen during lockdown, boosted by comparatively lower running costs and pleasant weather.
May saw the greenest ever month for British electricity production, recording the lowest average carbon intensity ever at 143 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Carbon intensity refers to how much carbon dioxide is released for every kilowatt hour of electricity production.
This new record reflects the rapidly changing nature of the British energy sector. Just one decade ago, a mere 3% of Britain’s electricity came from wind and solar, with such sources widely viewed as an expensive distraction.
However, renewable energy is big business in 2020, with the UK now boasting the largest offshore wind industry on the planet, as well as the biggest single wind farm, according to .
In 2020 so far, renewable energy sources have generated more power than all fossil fuel sources combined, and made up 37% of electricity supplied to the network compared with 35% for fossil fuels.
Going forward, fossil fuel decline looks set to continue post-lockdown, with the three remaining UK coal plants due to be closed down within the next five years.