Coal-burning streak shows Britain’s fossil fuel trap
30 July 2021
34-day coal burning streak in June and July drives grid emissions up
Britain has burned coal for the same number of days in the past month as it did over six months last year, suggesting that progress toward one of the UK’s key climate goals is stalling. Figures from National Grid ESO show Britain relied on coal to top up its electricity supply 34 days in a row from June 25th to July 28th. That is the same as the entire period from April 10th to October 26th 2020. So far in 2021 coal has been burned on 150 days, compared to 93 days for the same period last year.
Over the 34-day period the nuclear fleet was the leading zero-carbon generator. Most of this fleet, however, will retire by March 2024, the same time coal is due to be phased out. National Grid has said that electricity margins could be tighter this winter because of firm power capacity going offline. The carbon intensity of the grid so far in 2021 is already higher than in 2020, the first year-on-year increase since 2012.
Since coal and gas are Britain’s only firm power substitutes for nuclear power, the only way Britain will be able to keep to its promise of phasing out coal by October 2024 and keep the lights on will be to burn more gas. This fossil fuel dependence will lock in carbon emissions and higher prices.
Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said,
“Britain is caught in a fossil fuel trap, and the only way to escape is to build new nuclear power stations alongside renewable capacity. Our existing fleet have produced more zero-carbon power than any other assets in Britain, but if they retire without replacement, we will burn more gas and emissions will go up. Our path to net zero starts with replacing the existing nuclear fleet and investing in a strong and balanced zero carbon mix.”