UK breaks record for consecutive days without coal

4 May 2020   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

The existing record was surpassed in the early hours of Tuesday 28 April 2020 with more than 18 consecutive days passing without coal in the energy mix.

More than 438 hours passed coal-free, beating the record of 437.5 set in May and June 2019.

Lower energy usage and an increase in the amount of solar energy being produced help to explain the length of time coal has been absent from the UK's energy mix.

It follows the announcement last week that the daily solar generation record was broken on Monday 20 April 2020.

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Energy without coal

The previous record for the longest period coal-free since the 1800s was set in May/June 2019 when a consecutive stretch of 437.5 hours was recorded.

This has definitely been beaten with a period of at least 438 hours (18 days and 6 hours) recorded from Friday 10 April onwards. At the time of writing, the coal-free streak was continuing, so the overall record will be higher than this.

Energy demands have dramatically reduced in the UK over the course of the coronavirus lockdown as big energy users such as schools, restaurants and factories are closed. While some of this is offset by increased home energy usage, demand has fallen by a fifth compared to a typical April.

Along with the lower demand, solar energy has also experienced a peak with the 9.68GW generated on Monday 20 April beating the previous record set in May 2019.

Conditions were said to be ideal for solar, and the performance of solar energy has certainly helped to reduce the need for coal to be used in the UK's energy mix.

New records

With 2019 a record breaking year for green electricity in the UK, it was hoped further records would be broken in 2020 and we've already seen two of the four records set last year improved upon.

It's possible that the coal free record would not have been broken at this stage without the coronavirus lockdown and the correspondingly lower energy demands.

However, with 2025 set to be the year coal generation is banned in the UK and the last remaining coal power stations close, it's important that the records continue to be broken.

Yet problems remain with the optimal conditions required for solar and wind energy, often leading to a reliance on gas rather than renewables.

Are customers going greener?

Several challenger energy suppliers have made renewable energy the cornerstone of their business, with the likes of Bulb (5% of electricity market at Q3 2019), Octopus Energy and Shell Energy (both 3%) seeing growth in customers over the past few years.

Major suppliers have launched their own competing renewable tariffs such as Scottish Power's commitment to offer 100% renewable electricity to new fixed tariff customers using energy from their own windfarms.

British Gas launched their own Green Future Plus tariff in January with 100% renewable electricity and 90% of gas matched by carbon offsetting with the remaining 10% green gas derived from renewable sources.

However, with some renewable tariffs costing more than regular ones, they may not find favour with the public. Research from Ofgem and Citizens Advice released in March showed cost-related reasons were still the most important for customers when switching suppliers.

Only 16% of respondents suggested a supplier offering green energy was a reason to choose them, and only a further 1% added this when prompted for reasons that weren't cost-related.


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