Policy & Regulation

30 Jun 2021

UK's Coal-Fired Electricity Ban Officially Brought Forward to 2024

30 Jun 2021  by   

The UK Government first announced plans to move the date from 2025 to 2024 in February 2020 and said, at the time, that the official change to legislation would be made ahead of COP26. At that time, the UN climate summit was still set to take place in autumn 2020. It was subsequently delayed for a year due to Covid-19.

Pictured: Drax's power station in North Yorkshire, where two coal units will close later this year. Image: Drax/ A.Chadwick

Today (30 June), Ministers confirmed the October 2024 date. The phase-out applies to coal-fired electricity generation only; industrial sectors including steelmaking will still be permitted to use coal for heat to be used in processes. Similarly, coal mines in the UK will still be permitted to operate, with extracted coal to be used domestically for heavy industry or internationally.

Coal exported may still be used for electricity generation. However, the UK is calling on all other nations to implement their own legally binding phase-out dates.

At the recent G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, participating nations collectively agreed to develop net-zero targets for their power sectors in the 2030s. Dates will vary between nations but there are new shared commitments on coal. G7 governments must end direct support for new thermal coal generation capacity without co-located carbon capture technologies by the end of this year. All other “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies must then be phased out by 2025.

Looking specifically at the UK’s domestic electricity generation space, coal accounted for almost 40% of generation in 2010, but its share of the energy mix in the electricity sector had fallen to 1.8% by 2020, as more gas and renewables came online. 2020 saw the UK experiencing more than 5,000 hours without coal-fired electricity.

“Coal powered the industrial revolution two hundred years ago, but now is the time for radical action to completely eliminate this dirty fuel from our energy system,” Energy & Climate Change Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said.

“Today we’re sending a clear signal around the world that the UK is leading the way in consigning coal power to the history books and that we’re serious about decarbonising our power system so we can meet our ambitious, world-leading climate targets.”

The announcement came shortly after the Climate Change Committee (CCC) issued its latest progress report on decarbonisation to Parliament. The report states that the decarbonisation rates already achieved in the UK’s electricity sector must now be replicated elsewhere as a matter of urgency, including in sectors such as heat and the built environment, if the nation is to get on track to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget commitments.

Spotlight on nuclear

In related news, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuclear Power has released a new report calling for Ministers to clarify how the Government plans to address the impending ‘nuclear gap’.

Most of the UK’s nuclear fleet will retire by March 2024, the report states, with just one station planning to remain open past 2030 under current Government supports. This could jeopardise the net-zero transition if the ‘gap’ is addressed with additional gas generation, the report warns.

The nuclear sector has expressed concern recently that, despite coal decreasing its share of the electricity mix, the carbon intensity of the grid rose in the winter months, with coal rebounding and gas playing an increasingly large role.

The APPG has recommended that the Government supports at least 10GW of new nuclear capacity by the early 2030s. Funding and policy, the Group argues, should support technologies that either already exist or will be deployable by this time, rather than innovations which are less mature. The 10GW should be spread across Hinkley Point C, Sizewell C and other, potentially smaller, sites.

According to the APPG’s report, up to 90,000 jobs could be saved and created in the UK by 2035.

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