UK power generation runs without coal for three days in a row

The UK has been powered without coal for three days in a row, setting a new record and underlining the polluting fuel’s rapid decline.

Coal has historically been at the cornerstone of the UK’s electricity mix, but last year saw the first 24-hour period that the the country ran without the fuel since the 19th century.

New records were broken last week when zero power came from coal for nearly 55 consecutive hours.

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That milestone in turn was smashed on Monday afternoon and the UK passed the 72-hour mark at 10am on Tuesday. The coal-free run is expected to continue until later in the day, though some analysts said it was likely to end when demand peaks this evening.

Without the fossil fuel, two-fifths of Britain’s electricity is currently being supplied by gas, followed by nuclear and windfarms on a fifth each.

The UK has been coal-free for three days, powered by gas, renewables and nuclear instead

Electricity mix, 9am 23 April to 9am 24 April

Percentage

0%

25

50

75

100

Gas

Renewables

Nuclear

Imports

Biomass

Other

Coal

Guardian Graphic | Source: National Grid

The rest is coming from biomass burned at Drax power station in North Yorkshire, imports from France and the Netherlands, and a smattering of solar. Drax said it expected to go without coal on Tuesday.

The coal-free records are a reversal from the recent highs that coal plant owners experienced during the so-called “beast from the east” cold snap.

During cold weather in February and early March, demand for gas to use in heating pushed up the price of gas for power, which brought coal power stations online.

However, overall power demand is now much lower following the recent warm weather, making it easier for gas, renewables and nuclear to cover much of the UK’s needs.

National Grid has forecast electricity demand this summer will be lower than last year, with minimum demand at 17GW and peak at 33.7GW. Demand on Tuesday is expected to peak at about 35GW.

A carbon tax, the cheaper price of gas and the rise of renewables have all hit coal operators. The government has set a deadline of October 2025 for phasing out coal entirely.

Two coal plant owners have said they will shut this year, which will leave the UK with six coal power stations including Drax, which has hinted it will close before the 2025 target.