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UK electricity generation goes completely coal-free for May 2020

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May 2020 was the greenest month ever for electricity generation in the UK, with the National Grid going completely coal-free for the entire calendar month.

The UK has been weaning itself off of coal electricity generation over the last several years, with 2019 seeing coal responsible for just 5.71TWh of energy. That’s significantly down on 2016’s figures of 27.38TWh, and represents a UK-wide shift to cleaner energy production, utilising a mix of solar, wind and hydroelectric power, as well as other sources.

The last time the National Grid was forced to switch on a coal-fired power plant was in April, although it only provided 0.10TWh of power during that whole month. Since then, the UK’s weather has provided ripe conditions to take advantage of renewable energy sources. The National Grid notes that sunny conditions in May helped generate enough solar power to reduce the carbon intensity on the grid to its lowest level ever recorded.

It isn’t just the sunny weather that has led to a gradual reduction in the need for coal-fired power plants, however. Wind power has also been an effective source of electricity in recent months, thanks to blustery conditions. That’s all coupled with the reduced demand the grid has received thanks to the UK’s lockdown measures.

According to the National Grid, the UK’s electricity system has been coal-free for 54 consecutive days, leading to an average carbon intensity of 143g CO2/kWh, the lowest average on record. However, even better news came on May 24, when the UK’s grid had a carbon intensity of just 46g CO2/kWh, the lowest it has ever seen.

With the sunny weather set to come to an abrupt end from today, it’s likely that solar production in the UK will fall significantly, possibly forcing the National Grid to switch on coal-fired power plants once again. However, that doesn’t mean the UK won’t see more coal-free months in the future, especially as it presses on with the construction of even more renewable energy sources – such as the Cleve Hill Solar Park, which received government approval last week.

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