Coal has been a stalwart choice for power generation in the UK due to the availability of a plentiful, commercially-viable domestic supply, combined with a well-established power generation capability from numerous generating sites. Even as recently as 2010, the UK was relying on coal for over 35% of its electricity needs. However, with the change in public perception on the environment and central authority’s stance on global warming, we see this dominant position being eroded to the point where it is likely coal will be completely phased out of the UK’s energy mix within the next 10 years.
Notwithstanding that, the drop in coal usage has a big impact on jobs across the supply line. Coal miners’ numbers were decimated some decades ago. Though there are still many employed in the handling of coal, there is little doubt that the current trend is irreversible. Government statistics show the ever growing use of renewables, predominantly wind power, as an alternative source for the nation’s power generation.
The first graphic (left) also shows the Government’s desire to see growth from the nuclear sector after Hinckley Point is commissioned, as well as a heavy reliance of gas as the stable, clean energy source. To achieve the right mix, there will have to be considerable investment in gas storage facilities with the real danger years being between 2016 and 2028, during which time we will be heavily reliant on the importation of gas supplies.
To emphasis the rapid demise of coal and the impact on the UK’s energy requirements, we see that just in the last year coal has dropped from an average 22% market share in 2015 to its current level of around 5%. For the first time since records began, there were some days in the summer of 2016 that the National Grid did not call upon coal fired power stations to provide any electricity! The cause for this dramatic drop in coal usage is the dual impact of low gas prices and high carbon taxes. This document illustrates the recent changes in coal as well as the start of the hefty reliance on gas.
If there was any doubt as to the demise of coal, one only needs to look at the reprieves given to some coal fired power stations due to be decommissioned owing to their toxic outpourings. These facilities received a stay of execution in order to deliver electricity at times of peak demand under the new Government strategy termed the Capacity Market. Within months of receiving licences to allow them to continue generating power, several of these units’ owners chose to take the fines for non-delivery rather than haemorrhage losses by delivering uneconomic electricity with carbon taxes.