Britain, birthplace of coal industry, to close last plant

Britain, birthplace of coal industry, to close last plant E&E News | Benjamin Storrow

George Orwell once observed British civilization was “founded on coal.” The author of “1984” would hardly recognize his home country today. Coal, which fueled the factories, steam engines and power plants that made Britain the center of the Industrial Revolution, has all but disappeared from the United Kingdom. The country’s last deep-pit coal mine closed in 2015. Now, the fuel is poised to vanish from its electric system. Britain concluded a 67-day stretch without any coal generation earlier this month, when a coal plant operator briefly turned on a boiler in Yorkshire to conduct routine maintenance. The government has set a 2024 deadline for phasing out the country’s two remaining coal plants. And the national grid operator is shifting its focus from retiring coal to moving beyond gas. “We talk about the renewables being baseload and what you need to do to top that up,” said Julian Leslie, head of networks at National Grid, the British grid operator. “It is a fundamental shift.” The lack of coal in Britain has symbolic resonance: The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution is now home to a green revolution. In 2008, coal accounted for roughly a third of British power demand. Coal generated 2% of the country’s power last year while renewables accounted for more than a quarter of electricity production. Zero carbon resources, like renewables and nuclear, made up almost half of Britain’s power supply. The climate picture is more complicated. Government figures show emissions in the United Kingdom fell 30% between 2008 and 2019. But Britain accounts for a tiny sliver of global emissions. The 396 million tons of CO2 associated with the United Kingdom’s energy use in 2019 represented 1% of global energy emissions, according to BP PLC. In that respect, the true test of the United Kingdom’s climate progress may be its ability to export green technology much as it once nurtured the growth of coal