Grid officials said low demand for electricity in the week after the Easter holiday and a large amount of wind and nuclear power had helped to create the zero-coal day. By Friday afternoon, gas power plants were supplying 47 per cent of the country’s electricity while nuclear plants and wind farms each provided 18 per cent. Solar panels supplied about 10 per cent and 6 per cent came from biomass such as the wood pellets used in half the huge Drax power plant in North Yorkshire that was once the country’s largest coal plant. Coal power has faded as wind farms and solar parks have blossomed around the country, spurred by green subsidies introduced to help the UK meet legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gases by at least 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050. In addition, UK ministers announced in the run-up to the December 2015 adoption of the Paris climate change accord that they wanted to phase out coal power by 2025. That sent a shudder through an industry already struggling with low wholesale power prices and a domestic carbon tax of £18 a tonne. Two large coal plants closed in March last year, including the Longannet plant in Fife – a move that made Scotland’s power system coal-free. That helped push carbon emissions down to some of their lowest levels seen since Queen Victoria was on the throne in the late 1800s.
FT 22nd April 2017 read more »
Britain’s success in eliminating one of the most polluting forms of power generation has helped lower carbon emissions to levels barely seen since the latter days of Queen Victoria. Until recently, Germany was often cited as the green champion among the big European economies after rapidly expanding renewable power to about 30 per cent of electricity generation under its Energiewende, or energy transition, policy. Yet, Germany has failed to cut its carbon emissions as sharply as Britain because of its phasing out of nuclear power since the reactor meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011. This has left it dependent on coal and lignite, an even more polluting type of combustible rock, for 40 per cent of power output. The UK, in contrast, has kept faith with nuclear for more than a fifth of generating capacity. Together with similar amounts of renewable power this means that low-carbon energy often accounts for more than half of UK electricity generation. Last week it reached almost three-quarters. When wind and solar power is lacking, Britain can fall back on natural gas, which produces half the carbon emissions of coal when burnt. So far, so green. But UK energy policy is not without problems. About 40 per cent of existing generating capacity is due to close by 2030 as old nuclear reactors are decommissioned and coal is phased out. The £18bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset is supposed to fill part of the gap but doubts remain over its unproven reactor technology and plans for several further new nuclear plants are facing tough financial hurdles. Government efforts to encourage more new gas capacity have also stumbled because of the difficult y of incentivising investment in plants which may not be required on days with plenty of wind or sun. These conundrums have left ministers torn between competing aims to reduce carbon emissions while ensuring energy security and keeping costs down. Power companies complain that threatened action to curb consumer energy bills is at odds with the need to attract investment in generating capacity; climate activists worry about priorities shifting from emissions reduction to economic competitiveness as the government prepares Britain for life outside the EU. But while the appropriate balance between renewables, nuclear and gas remains open to debate, and some sceptics question the pace with which coal is being abandoned, few people are mourning the disappearance of sulphur-belching smokestacks from the UK skyline.
FT 22nd April 2017 read more »