Coal may have helped birth the Industrial Revolution in Britain, but the nation is working hard to leave it behind. And it just hit a big milestone: This marks the first time since 1882 that Britain has run a week without coal.
National Grid, the electric company that provides power for Britain, announced the milestone on Tuesday in a tweet. The milestone is largely symbolic, but reflects how the world can increasingly operate without the dirtiest fossil fuel.
The last belch of coal-fuelled power in Britain came on May 1 around 1 p.m. local time. Since then, wind, solar, and natural gas have kept business going as usual. According to the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the country has gone without coal for 1,000 hours this year, or a little more than 41 calendar days.
— UK Coal (@UK_Coal) May 8, 2019
The milestone reminds us that coal is in its death throws, at least in a growing number of developed countries. The UK still gets a little less than 10 per cent of its power from coal. It’s been replaced by and large by natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal but is still hardly a climate solution since it releases carbon dioxide and methane in the extraction and burning processes. But National Grid remains sanguine it can get the country’s grid to zero emissions in the next six years.
“As more and more renewables come onto our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence,” Fintan Slye, National Grid’s director, said in a statement. “We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon.”
The economics are turning against coal elsewhere. In the US, a recent analysis shows it’s cheaper to shutdown three-quarters of coal plants right now and replace them with renewables. At the same time, the transition to renewables stalled globally last year and the developing world — particularly China — continues to add coal to the grid. So while there’s no denying Britain’s achievement is worth raising a pint of Guinness to, the world still has a long way to go before it’s time to pop bottles.