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Coal free and beyond: The changing face of UK energy


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A landmark event recently occurred which hadn’t been achieved since Queen Victoria sat on the throne and the Industrial Revolution began. This spectacular event was the first time the UK energy supply went coal-free for a full week.

Power Station

Image Credit: Courtesy of Social Energy 

A few weeks after a Climate Crisis was declared, the UK powered itself without coal for eight days, one hour and 25 minutes (the longest coal-free run for Britain since 1882). Such a ground-breaking achievement shows that the country can transition from its reliance on Fossil Fuels that heavily pollute the atmosphere, to increased reliance on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.


Image Credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Two weeks ago, the Committee on Climate Change issued a report that called for the UK to aim to achieve a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This news comes amid heightened concerns about the impact of Fossil Fuels on public health, with reports of highly polluted air causing an increase in asthma, and even deaths. One thing is for sure though - the first coal-free week for the UK in over a century is an incredible step towards achieving these goals more quickly.

At 1.24pm on 1st May, the last coal generator came off the system, which meant that as of 1.24pm on Wednesday 8th May the UK had reached 168 hours without the use of coal, according to reports from the National Grid Electricity System Operator. That number rose to 193 hours and 25 minutes before the UK’s coal-free run ended.

What is extremely significant about this extended coal-free period was that it was only two years ago that the UK had its first coal-free day since 1882, which indicates just how quickly the renewable energy sector is developing. 

Currently coal plays a significant role in the UK’s energy system, and is used as a backup during times of high demand. However, the increasing development and use of renewable energy sources, such as solar power, has meant that coal has begun to be required at increasingly less frequent periods. Rising coal prices have also meant that coal is no longer as affordable as it once was, which has increased the unattractiveness of this fossil fuel as a power source. This means that now more than ever, developments in renewable energy are needed.

The biggest problem for renewable energies is that unlike a coal power station, the wind and the sun can’t be turned on or off at the flick of a switch. What renewables need is a way to store energy when there is oversupply and feed it back into the grid when there is less renewable energy available.

In order to achieve this, battery storage is required at a large scale across the UK. However, this technology has struggled to gain traction due to previous lack of return on investment in battery hardware.

One company working to solve this problem is UK-based energy sector disruptor, Social Energy, with AI technology that makes battery storage a profitable investment for homeowners. Director Dr Stephen Day applauded the news of the record-breaking coal-free period: “Having worked in the clean energy space for several years, it was fantastic to see this remarkable achievement, particularly when you consider that only ten years ago coal provided 40% of our electricity. It also highlights the increasing need for innovative energy solutions.”

The technology could enable homeowners to reduce their electricity bill by up to 70%, whilst contributing to the UK’s combined renewable infrastructure.

While the 2050 goal is possible thanks to innovation, HMRC is putting hurdles in the way of government goals, announcing a proposed increase on VAT for renewable products. Hopefully, for the sake of the planet and the health of future generations, all elements of the public sector will pull together in line with the massively positive private sector efforts to drive small scale renewable installations.

Lead Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay

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