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The UK is already leading the world in phasing out coal, but a few simple policy tweaks can further boost the government’s international reputation:

  • ending opencast coal mining
  • phasing-out coal even earlier, by 2022

 

Ffos-y-fran by Phil MacDonald and Laurence Watson

Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine, Wales

Yesterday, National Grid released their updated Future Energy Scenarios for the UK electricity and gas system. Two of Grid’s four scenarios meet our Climate Change Act targets: both of those scenarios see the last coal power station cease generation in 2022. National Grid’s primary function is keeping the lights on, so a phase-out in 2022 doesn’t place any risk on a lack of power.

Crucially, a 2022 phase-out date would allow the current government to complete the coal phase-out (and win the global accolades) before the next election, nominally in May 2022. And as our analysis made clear earlier this year, the coal phase-out won’t require new gas – gas use for power will keep on dropping.

There’s still 2GW of coal contracted in the 2021/2022 Capacity Market (Ratcliffe + Drax). The 2022/2023 auction takes place at the beginning of next year, and Drax at least is likely to win another contract – so there’s little time for legislation to ensure the National Grid scenario is guaranteed (even if coal is unlikely to need to run in 2022).

 

Community Renewables Fig 5.2

National Grid ‘Community Renewables’ Scenario – Just 7.6TWh of coal generation in 2021, falling to zero in 2022

 

National Grid scenarios set out a series of projections which show just how fast the transition can happen if policy is in place to drive it.

Under the Two Degrees scenario, 60% of UK electricity generation comes from renewables by 2024 (up from 26% today).

FES2018 key comparison chart

With high renewables growth, new-build nuclear and nuclear life extensions, and a strong push on energy-efficiency, Britain can become a net electricity exporter in 2027.

Fig 5.9 UK as a net electricity exporter from 2027

 

In the high renewables scenario ‘Community Renewables’, National Grid thinks the UK can build more than 80GW of wind by 2050, up from around 19GW today.

80GW wind by 2050 Fig 5.5

 


 

Also this week, environmentalists and academics called for an end to opencast coal mining in the UK, in a letter to James Brokenshire MP and Greg Clark MP. Signatories included Friends of the Earth, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the RSPB, and professors from the Tyndall Centre and Grantham Institute.

The new opencast mine at Pont Valley in County Durham is a blot on the UK’s credentials as leader of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, especially following the government’s successful denial of planning permission for the Druridge Bay mine site.

Last year, coal provided just 7% of UK electricity. This year that percentage is likely to fall even further as the increase in the EU carbon price (to ~€15) combines with the UK carbon tax to ensure coal is uneconomic.

An international signal to keep UK coal reserves in the ground would be a profound statement. James Brokenshire MP can send this signal in the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) due shortly, by adding a presumption against new coal extraction.

 


 

With COP24 approaching in Katowice, Poland, the UK government should be looking for major announcements to cement their status as a leader in tackling climate change – and to signal the UK as the home for clean growth. Moving faster on coal is a domestic win for emissions, but also puts extra pressure on laggards like Germany, still dragging their heels over announcing a coal phase-out date.

Two excellent options for the government are ending opencast coal mining, and bringing forward the coal phase-out.