The UK Government has made a decision to completely phase out coal power stations by the year 2025 in an attempt to reduce pollution and to move away from reliance on fossil fuels. At the moment, coal power stations make up around 13% of the electricity generation stack for the UK (at the time of writing), and 9 coal-fired power stations are in operation across the country. If coal power stations are able to capture and store their carbon emissions then they would be allowed to remain open past 2025, though that option is not particularly feasible.
The aim to close all remaining power stations before 2025 has come about after the Government had announced they would fund £730m in renewable energy. The hope is to move the UK towards a more green and sustainable future in terms of energy. The majority of the funding is expected to contribute towards wind farm maintenance, construction and planning, however at the moment gas-fired power is making up for the lack of coal generation over the last few years. There is much speculation going on regarding which source of energy will be able to replace coal power generation.
This news comes at a time where the UK power system is already under much pressure for the coming winter, due to the UK exporting power to France to aid their lack of nuclear power availability. In fact, National Grid have taken action to ensure UK power supply does not fail this winter, by placing two coal-fired power stations on standby to contribute to the power generation stack during peak demand throughout winter. The two power stations that have come back online are Eggborough and Fiddler’s Ferry, capable of generating 681MW and 422MW respectively. Though this is only a temporary measure to prevent power outages or failures throughout winter, it contradicts efforts that are being put into place to reduce and phase out fossil fuels as a power source.
Having Eggborough and Fiddler’s Ferry on standby highlights exactly how dependent the UK currently is on coal-fired power, which invites the question of whether in the future the UK can shift that dependency on a renewable source, or whether the 2025 phase out will be extended or watered down to suit the needs and requirements of the power system at any particular time.
Drax is the UK's largest power station, and currently 3 of its 6 units generate power via burning biomass, while the remainder still generate coal-fired power. Reports suggest that the way forward would be to convert some coal power stations to biomass. At the moment Fiddler’s Ferry is capable of doing so, though the station does not produce as much electricity through biomass as Drax.
Coal-fired electricity generation has decreased by 66% over the last two years, which supports the idea that the UK could easily become coal-free by 2025. Scotland closed its last coal power station in spring, and since then gas-fired power has increased to make up for it, though green energy campaigners see this as shifting the problem elsewhere, and does not solve the problem of ending the dependency on fossil fuels or implementing more use of renewable energy.
Sources: Npower (RWE), The Guardian, BBC News, SSE, Gazprom Energy, EDF Energy, National Grid