BSC Insights: First day off for coal in 130 years…


David Thomas and Emma Tribe write about Friday 21 April 2017 which was the first day in 130 years where no electricity was generated by coal in the UK. But what’s filling the gap?

Published: April 2017

First 24 hour since the 1880’s … 

Following on from recent record solar and wind generation, we saw another first last Friday; 21 April 2017 was the first 24 hour period since the 1880’s where no coal was used to generate electricity.

To put that in context, the last time this occurred the industrial revolution had just started, Queen Victoria was on the throne, Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story and a ‘liquor-free’ drink was invented in America, which became Coca-Cola!

Coal generation ceased at 22:00 on 20 April, with no Coal Balancing Mechanism Units (BMUs) generating again until after midnight on 22 April. So what filled the gap left by coal? The majority of generation seen on 21 April was sourced from gas (50%), with nuclear contributing 21% and wind a further 12%.

The remaining generation was mainly split between Interconnectors (8%) and ‘Other’ (7%) generation, with only negligible Pump Storage and Hydro.

Coal generation by Settlement Period

Coal Generation

The shift away from coal generation is not a new phenomenon. Numerous factors have impacted generation from Coal BMUs; the lower cost of gas, the increase in renewable generation and the UK and Europe emissions targets.

It is slightly surprising for the first ‘no coal day’ to occur on a weekday, rather than at the weekend when demand is lower.


Generation Mix

Generation mix

The graph compares the total volume of generation in the third week of April across the last three years (2015, 2016 and 2017).

The decrease in volume generated from Coal BMUs is dramatic, reducing from 1,560GWh in 2015 to 471GWh in 2016 and down to 31GWh in 2017. Coal generation reduced from 29% of total generation in this period in 2015 to less than 1% for the same period in 2017.

On one day in April two years ago (2 April 2015), coal generation across the day was 331GWh. In contrast, total coal generation for this month so far (up to 23rd April) has been 298GWh.

Summer Outlook Report

National Grid’s 2017 Summer Outlook Report included a forecast of expected costs of coal and gas generation over this summer. Their analysis concluded it is unlikely that coal generation could make a profit by running at either Baseload or Peak across the summer. Lower gas prices will mean gas generation is likely to continue to be the dominate generation type.

Further information

Elexon’s BMRS website publishes generation data that can be used to measure and observe the changing UK fuel mix.


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