The United Kingdom, the birth place of coal power, has gone seven days without using electricity from coal-fired stations for the first time since its industrial revolution, the country's power grid operator said on Wednesday May 8th.
London was home to the world's first coal-fuelled power plant in the 1880s, and coal was the UK’s dominant electric source and a major economic driver for the next century.
However, compared to gas-fired power plants, coal emits almost double the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), the heat-trapping gas blamed for global warming. Due to the soot they caused, coal-fired plants were moved out of UK cities from the late 1950's to reduce air pollution.
Reuters reports that as part of efforts to meet its climate target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared with 1990 levels in the next three decades, the UK plans to wean itself completely off coal-fired power generation by 2025.
Low power prices and levies on CO2 emissions have also made it increasingly unprofitable to run coal plants, especially when supplies from wind and solar power have grown substantially.
The National Grid, the UK’s power transmission network, said coal-free runs like the one this week would become a regular occurrence as more renewable energy enters the system.
Britain's independent climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, last week recommended that it deepen its climate target to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This would require even more renewable electricity production, an earlier phase out of new petrol and diesel cars, and lifestyle changes such as red meat consumption.
The UK’s last deep-cast coal mine closed in North Yorkshire in 2015, marking the end of an era for an industry once employing 1.2 million people in nearly 3,000 collieries.
"Just a few years ago we were told Britain couldn't possibly keep the lights on without burning coal," said Doug Parr, policy director at environmental activist group Greenpeace.
"Now coal is quickly becoming an irrelevance, much to the benefit of our climate and air quality, and we barely notice it," Parr said.