The global opinion of coal is changing more than ever. On 21 April 2017, the UK had its first ever coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution. This was the longest coal-free period since May 2016 when the record stood at 19 hours. The day's energy came from different sources; half came from natural gas, a quarter from nuclear plants, with the rest being made up by renewable and imported energy.
The National Grid stated that this was "a sign of things to come" with coal making up only 9% of electricity generation in 2016, down from 23% the year before.
This shift has happened partly for environmental reasons, but also because alternative energies are now able to meet more of our energy demands. Britain's last coal power station is expected to be closed by 2025 to meet climate change targets, something which is happening across the world. Many of the UK's coal plants have closed or switched to using biomass fuels such as wood pellets.
Powering UK homes
According to Government statistics from the end of 2016, the UK's energy came from various fuels: 43.6% gas, 25% nuclear, 25% renewable, 3.6% coal and 2.9% from oil and other sources. In 2015, renewable energy overtook coal for the first time becoming the second largest electricity generator. Much of our renewable energy comes from wind and solar power.
Energy production is becoming increasingly local as well, with 222 community energy organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland generating enough energy to power 85,000 homes. These organisations are a collection of small companies, co-operatives and trusts that take investment from the local communities to produce clean, renewable energy in those areas. You can see if there's an organisation local to you through the Community Energy England website.
Much of the change in energy production happens on a global scale. But, as the example above shows there are ways to change things on a local level. This includes steps you can take at home, if you want to be part of the shift towards green energy.
- Look into producing your own energy. Installing solar panels and wind turbines at home can be a big investment, but can also pay for themselves in the long-run.
- Switch energy suppliers to companies that use green energy. Your current supplier might already offer this option, but if not, Ofgem have a list of approved energy comparison sites.
- You can also make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible - helping the environment and reducing your bills. Read more about energy saving at home.
Global decline in coal use
According to a new report from Greenpeace, CoalSwarm and The Sierra Club, 2016 saw a drastic fall in planned coal-fired power plants worldwide.
Much of this decline has been credited to China and India’s changing policies and views towards fossil fuel use, with construction being frozen at over 100 coal project sites in China alone since January 2016. Construction of plants in India has slowed due to banks and financiers not wanting to provide further funding.
Both countries play a leading role in the changing opinion around coal use; together they made up 86% of global coal power from 2006 through to 2016. The report also highlights that India is currently ‘in the midst of a solar power revolution’, with the government proposing to install 215 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2027. Europe and the US have also been retiring coal plants in large numbers, with around 120 large units stopping production.
The report findings show a positive attitude towards the changing views on coal and fossil fuel use around the world. It's hoped that major countries such as the UK, China and India become leading examples to other nations who still heavily rely on coal, such as Turkey, Indonesia, and Japan.