Britain Just Went a Week Without Coal for the First Time in 137 Years

By Brian Kahn on at

Coal may have helped birth the Industrial Revolution here in Britain, but we're working hard to leave it behind. And it just hit a big milestone: this marks the first time since 1882 (!) that we've run a week without coal.

National Grid 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.

Our last belch of coal-fuelled power came on May 1 around 1 p.m. Since then, wind, solar, and natural gas have kept business going as usual. According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Britain has gone without coal for 1,000 hours so far this year, or a little more than 41 calendar days.

The milestone reminds us that coal is in its death throes, at least in a growing number of developed countries. Here in the UK, we still get a little less than 10 per cent of our 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 It’s been replaced by and large by natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal but is still hardly a climate solution since it releases carbon dioxide and methane in the extraction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 that this particular achievement is worth raising a pint to, the world still has a long way to go before it’s time to pop bottles.

Featured image: Getty