Coal-free summers on horizon

Great Britain could soon make it through a whole summer without burning any coal to fuel its power stations, according to a new report.

The latest Electric Insights paper – commissioned by power station operator Drax and compiled by academics at Imperial College London – revealed that coal was used to generate less than 1% of the country’s electricity during June, the first time the landmark was achieved. For 12 days, no coal was used at power stations.

“Spurred on by the beginnings of an uncharacteristically dry, hot summer and a jump in solar generation, the possibility of the country going entirely coal-free for a full summer now looks more achievable than ever in modern times,” the quarterly report said.

Has decarbonisation stalled?

Yet the report also warned that the rapid pace of decarbonisation is unlikely to be maintained following the removal of the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in Tariff, along with uncertainty over the place of mature technologies such as onshore wind and solar within the Contracts for Difference setup.

“The end of these initiative paints a hazy picture of how future renewable capacity will be brought into the system,” the report noted.

It added that nuclear capacity looks “unlikely” to expand at the rate needed to plug gaps in demand.

System balancing services

During the second quarter of 2018, there was as many coal-free hours as during the whole of 2016 and 2017 combined.

The report noted that coal was used mostly to provide system balancing services overnight in May and June rather than baseload electricity.

It highlighted that GB has reduced its coal-fired power generation by four-fifths over the past five years.

The country’s solar capacity has also overtaken its coal capacity, with 13.1GW compared to 12.9GW.

> Download Drax's report