After a year in which solar generated more power than coal for six months, the country has realized a transition to clean energy won't be so hard.
Good news from Britain. Even its Brexit-drunk ministers understand that there is a new future for energy: The U.K. government says it will phase out coal power. After a banner year for renewables, in which solar outstripped coal generation for six full months, the country will now ditch coal altogether by 2025.
Coal is the dirtiest of power sources, carbon-wise, producing double the CO2 for a unit of electricity than natural gas. "Last year coal accounted for just under a quarter of electricity generation and the eight stations that remain operational today represent around 15% of Great Britain’s total generating capacity," states a newly published paper detailing the phase-out.
The goal is to phase out coal smoothly, while supporting renewables to take its place. But the move isn't entirely altruistic. While the government paper begins by talking about honoring commitments to the Paris agreement, the real reasons for such a swift ditching of coal soon become clear: The U.K.'s active coal stations are, one average, 47 years old, and all but three of them are operating beyond their intended lifespan.
"Our relatively inefficient and aging fleet of coal power stations is not sustainable in the long-term," said secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Greg Clark in a statement. "Nearly all of the remaining coal stations in Great Britain are operating beyond their original design life—and without substantial spending on extending their lives even further most are likely to close in the next few years."
It's cheaper, then, to fund renewables. The plan is to take coal offline in a controlled way, so that the country's growing power needs do not go unmet, and the people working at the power stations won't find themselves without work at short notice. To help, £290 million ($360 million) will be made available to for renewable energy projects. These contract auctions are expected to result in enough power for a million homes, and to bring down the cost of renewables. As an example, offshore wind power prices are now 25% lower than they were during the last auction.
Even if this phase-out had not been planned, admits the government in its paper, the U.K.'s coal plants would probably close by 2022 anyway, "due to economic factors." This makes the push for a replacement urgent, and inevitable. Still, the government deserves some credit for looking to wind and solar, at least, even the the wind is blowing in that direction already.
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12 December 2017