That said, it needs to be put in the proper context. The UK coal industry has been in decline for quite some time now. Even before Thatcher’s confrontation with the unions, coal was in decline. More recently quite a few of the UK’s coal fired power plants have begun to convert to co-firing with biomass. And coal fired power stations are increasingly used only for load following or peak load power. And naturally, late April is a time of low electricity demand.Certainly some credit must be given to the rise in renewable energy. Over 2016, more UK electricity was generated by wind energy than came from coal. And Scotland closed its last remaining coal plant last year and has been steadily running at about 59% renewables for its electricity for some time now.
But of course, this is not to suggest the UK is 100% renewable, there’s still a lot of fossil fuels on the grid, notably natural gas. Generally natural gas is cleaner and has a lower carbon footprint than coal, although there is some controversy with regard to shale gas and its carbon footprint. And the Tories recent cuts to renewables, as well as their attempts to tax solar power, means the grow of renewables in the UK has slowed somewhat. And brexit is inevitably going to make the situation worse. So its not victory cigar time yet.
My comment would be, great news, but what’s the long term plan? Cutting coal out of the equation is one thing, but not if it means creating a gap in the grid. Because my concern would be that if something doesn’t fill that gap, it will be all too tempting to fill it with another generation of coal or gas fire power stations at some future date. There is still a lack of joined up thinking in the UK with regard to energy policy. And until we get that sorted out, I worry that the progress made might end up being reversed if we aren’t careful.
But certainly this is an historic mile stone. One of those things we were assured could never happen, has just happened.