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New coal-free record set for Britain, and another's on the way

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Britain has set a new coal-free record after going over two days without generating from the fossil fuel, with a new record possible this week as low carbon generation took hold over the weekend.

Between Monday (17 April) evening and the early hours of Thursday (19 April) morning, no coal was used to generate electricity, covering a ~55 hour period.

This surpassed the previous 40 hour record for coal free generation and marks a significant growth in the use of other technologies since April 2017, when the UK experienced its first coal free day since the Industrial Revolution.

However, the country is already on its way to potentially reaching even further heights with – at the time of writing – the UK presently running at 48 hours without coal.

This followed a weekend that saw low carbon sources – nuclear, wind, solar, biomass and hydro – deliver almost two thirds (64.1%) of GB electricity according to National Grid.

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This was up on the previous two days (50.6% and 48.5% respectively), with solar particularly benefiting from the improved weather, delivering around 20% of electricity on Saturday.

Despite repeating its assertions last week that the organisation had the tools in place to tackle the changing energy mix of the UK, National Grid will be hard at work preparing for the coming months.

A number of high ranking representatives, including former system operator direction Cordi O’Hara, have said that the summer lows in demand caused by solar and other renewables had become as difficult to manage as the winter peaks.

With National Grid forecasting that both peak and minimum transmission system demand will be even lower this year, has already made some of its plans known. It recently stated it would instruct some inflexible generators - typically nuclear, CHP and some wind and hydro facilities - to turn off this summer as production from the UK’s ~13GW of operational solar caters for an increasing percentage of demand.

This follows last years’ performance of the technology such as in July 2017 when soaring generation from the solar assets sent UK power demand to a new low during what was later found to have been the ‘greenest summer ever’.

Owing to the lack of need for coal in recent days, and the proliferation of low carbon technologies including solar and wind – which itself has already set records this year – and the UK’s plan to shut coal-fired stations by 2025, chief executive of environmental law firm ClientEarth, James Thornton, said it was especially important now that National Grid works to ensure renewable generation can continue to flourish in place of coal.

“As if we needed any more proof, the UK has moved beyond coal. We now need the grid to be ready to bring renewables online – that means smart tech to manage consumer demand, advancements in battery storage, and integrating electric vehicles into the equation.

“The more coal-free days we see, the better it is for people’s health and for the climate. The UK has promised to be a world-leading example – it needs to continue powering past coal, investing in the right strategies and technologies to make the transition as easy as it can be,” he said.


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