England has officially gone seven days without using any coal-powered source of electricity for the first time in centuries. Britain was the cradle of the industrial revolution, opening the world’s first coal powered plant in 1882. In an attempt to transition to renewable energy, the country removed its last coal generator from the power grid on May 1 and has effectively survived a week without needing to tap into coal resources.
According to the National Grid Electricity System Operator, which runs the electricity network serving England, Scotland and Wales, Britain still maintains backup coal-powered plants when high energy demands are needed. Otherwise, cleaner energy sources, including wind, solar and natural gas have been able to meet energy needs for the first week in May.
Coal plants emit nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas plants. In the 1950s, Britain moved the last coal plant out of major cities in order to improve air quality, however the damage to the environment continued.
In 2015, Britain closed its last coal mine, an industry that used to employ 1.2 million people nationally. Now, the country relies on coal imports. Due to rising prices, the coal industry is no longer a lucrative competitor to renewable energy. High international prices have led to investment and interest in solar and wind technology.
The U.K. government has pledged to phase out all coal powered plants by 2025. In 2017, the country celebrated its first coal-free day, proving that government commitments and investments in technology can make meaningful progress in a matter of years.
“Just a few years ago we were told Britain couldn’t possibly keep the lights on without burning coal,” said Doug Parr of Greenpeace told Reuters. “Now coal is quickly becoming an irrelevance, much to the benefit of our climate and air quality, and we barely notice it.”
Some British environmental advocates believe a more ambitious plan to achieve zero-carbon operation of the national grid through investments in offshore wind farms and household scale solar facilities is also possible by 2050.
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