Electricity pylons stand alongside cooling towers at Uniper SE's coal-fired power station in Ratcliffe-on-Soar, U.K., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. EON SE cut most of the grip on the utility's legacy fossil-fuel fired power stations as its Uniper SE unit was listed on Monday. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
© Bloomberg

Britain has gone an entire week without using coal to generate electricity for the first time in modern history, marking a key moment in the country’s shift towards cleaner-burning fuels.

The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said on Wednesday that at 1:24pm, Britain’s electric system had been coal-free for 168 hours, something it predicted would become standard in the near future.

“While this is the first time this has happened, I predict it will become the new normal,” said Fintan Slye, director of ESO.

“As more and more renewables come on to our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence. We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon.”

Business secretary Greg Clark praised the move and gave the strongest indication yet that the government is preparing to put into law the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee, which said last week the UK should aim to cut emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases to “net zero” by 2050.

“Going a week without coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution is a huge leap forward in our world-leading efforts to reduce emissions, but we’re not stopping there,” Mr Clark said.

“We’re now on a path to become the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions.”

The UK is set to phase out coal use by 2025, helped by a ramp up in renewable energy sources such as offshore wind, while the EU and the UK government have sought to make carbon emissions more expensive, causing alternatives to become more competitive.

The UK has just six remaining coal-fired power stations that now primarily serve as back-up power in times of peak demand or when supplies are lost from elsewhere. Gas, nuclear and wind all now provide more power to the grid, a sharp change since the beginning of this decade when coal was still one of the UK’s primary sources of electricity generation.

The previous longest coal-free run was set over the Easter weekend this year, when the grid went 90 hours and 45 minutes without using coal.

Get alerts on UK energy when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article