UK moves ahead on lower-carbon power to end coal use by 2025


Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

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The United Kingdom is increasing its use of low-carbon energy sources as it moves to phase out coal-fired power plants altogether by 2025.

Renewable-energy sources such as wind and solar, combined with nuclear power and generating plants fired with renewable wood pellets, are displacing fossil fuels in the country's electricity-generation mix.

This combination of alternatives energy sources allowed the U.K. to hit a significant milestone in 2016.

DON'T MISS: More solar energy was added in 2016 than natural gas or wind

Between July and September, half of the country's electricity was generated by wind and solar farms, and wood and nuclear power plants, according to figures released by the U.K. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in late December.

The increase in low-carbon electricity generation was driven primarily by new wind and solar installations, and the decommissioning of several major coal-fired power plants, reports The Guardian.

Scotland's last coal power plant closed in Spring 2016, and two large coal plants in England shut down as well.

wind farm

wind farm

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This caused coal's share of the generating mix to drop from 16.7 percent in the third quarter of 2015, to just 3.6 percent over the same period in 2016.

Scotland, which is particularly aggressive in its promotion of renewable energy, now generates 77 percent of its electricity from low-carbon sources.

It also exports 29 percent of the electricity it generates, with most of that power going to England.

MORE: Scotland shows path toward boosting renewable energy in a big way

While renewable energy is on the rise, the use of wood pellets as an alternative to coal at existing power plants is also contributing to the fuel's decline.

Two of the six units at Drax—the U.K.'s largest power plant—have already been converted to use biomass, and a third unit is in the process of conversion, The Guardian reported in November.

Much of the wood used in plants like Drax is imported from the U.S.

Ontario Power Generation Nanticoke Generating Station coal power plant

Ontario Power Generation Nanticoke Generating Station coal power plant

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The U.K. government promised last year that coal would be phased out by 2025 because of concerns over emissions, to be replaced with a mix of other sources that would include natural gas.

After a consultation period, it announced in November that the last coal plant could close as early as 2022 without government intervention, due to rising costs related to compliance with emissions standards.

But if the price of coal remains low, plants could stay open until 2030, studies showed.

Because of that uncertainty, the U.K. government plans to enact a combination of emissions standards for power plants and incentives for renewable energy that will meet its 2025 target for the phase out of coal.

Officials believe it is "unlikely" that emissions-reducing technology for coal plants—such as systems that capture and store carbon—will prove practical, meaning generating plants will have to stop using coal to meet the new emissions standards.

This is all good news for U.K. electric-car drivers, who will have a cleaner source of electricity with which to charge their cars, in turn reducing their vehicles' overall carbon emissions.

[hat tip: Max Looker]

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