UK coal phase-out will require gas deployment

12 January 2021

Britain burned more coal in the week beginning 4 January than at any time in nearly a year. Figures from National Grid ESO show how fossil fuel use spiked in that week with high demand in cold weather conditions. Gas and coal regularly hit 60% of electricity generation. Day-ahead prices reached £1000/MWh during the week as National Grid issued repeated notices about power supplies.

Over the same period, the nuclear fleet was the leading zero-carbon generator. Half of this fleet, however, will retire by the end of 2024, at the same time coal is due to be phased out.

The implication is that as coal and gas are Britain’s only firm power substitutes other than nuclear power, scheduled nuclear fleet retirements will decrease firm power capacity, leading to a requirement to burn more gas. 

The Nuclear Industry Association commented “the path to net zero starts with replacing the existing nuclear fleet, and investing in a strong and balanced zero carbon mix.”

The Climate Change Committee estimated in its Sixth Carbon Budget that without new projects, zero-carbon generation will fall from 130 TWh in 2020 to 90 TWh in 2030 as a result of nuclear fleet retirements. The CCC has forecast that the UK will need four times as much clean power by 2050 to hit net zero.

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