UK confirms plans to end coal power for electricity in 2024

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE UK Government has brought forward its deadline to end the use of coal for electricity by a year to 2024, although a new coking coal mine has yet to be ruled out.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson originally announced the target of 2024 as the end for coal-fired electricity generation, bringing forward a previous target by a year. Following a consultation period, this new target has now been confirmed.

There are currently three coal-fired plants still contributing to the electricity grid. Coal’s contribution to the grid has dropped significantly, from 40% in 2012 to 1.8% in 2020. It will no longer be used to generate electricity from 1 October 2024.

The Government claims that this commitment highlights its leadership in emissions reductions ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. The UK is also calling on other nations to phase out coal power at an accelerated rate.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Energy and Climate Change Minister, said: “Today we’re sending a clear signal around the world that the UK is leading the way in consigning coal power to the history books and that we’re serious about decarbonising our power system.”

Alok Sharma, COP26 President-Designate, said: “The next decade will be make, or break, for our planet and the most powerful way we can make a difference is to end our reliance on coal.

“Ahead of COP26, I hope the UK’s decisive step towards a cleaner, greener future sends a clear signal to friends around the world that clean power is the way forward. The impact of this step will be far greater if we can bring the world with us, and so our desire to support a clean and just energy transition is central to my discussions on the road to COP26.”

Ariana Densham, Greenpeace UK’s Senior Climate Campaigner, said that more needs to be done. “If the Government really wants to make a big statement ahead of the global climate summit this Autumn, it should lead by example and commit to ending all new fossil fuel projects, not just coal, by the end of this year, as well as delivering the policies on renewables, homes, transport and food at the speed and scale required to stop global temperatures from spiralling out of control.”

New coking coal mine could still go ahead

The coal ban doesn’t include the coking coal that is currently used for steel production, and a new coal mine is currently planned for Cumbria. The Woodhouse Colliery was approved in October 2020 by the Cumbria County Council. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick originally refused to block plans for the mine, but has since called a public inquiry.

A Green Alliance report last year said that West Cumbria Mining and Cumbria County Council claimed that transport emissions will be reduced by 5.3m t over the lifetime of the mine by using coal mined in the UK rather than importing it. However, this does not take into account the emissions from mine operations and that burning the metallurgical coal would release 8.4m t/y of CO2. The report concludes that decarbonisation of the steel industry is possible without the need for a new coal mine.  

Similarly, a research team from the University of Leeds, writing in a blog post for the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), calculated that the transport emissions would be reduced from 62 kg CO2e/t to 9 kg CO2e/t if coal from Cumbria is used rather than importing US coal. Overall, this only reduces emissions from steel production by 1.8%. In contrast, solutions such as optimising design of steel products, reusing scrap, and repairing products would reduce emissions in the steel sector by 16–20%.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its recent report on the global energy sector that no new coal mines or mine extensions should be built if the world is to have a chance of meeting the target of net zero emissions by 2050. Its net zero scenario predicts that demand for coking coal will fall and that existing production sources are sufficient to cover demand to 2050.

The authors of the CREDS article warn that despite West Cumbria Mining saying the mine will create around 500 jobs, these jobs will be precarious in an industry with no long-term future. They note that off the coast of West Cumbria is a prime location for the offshore wind industry instead.

The authors urge the Government to have a more forward-thinking approach to steel production, rather than relying on transporting coal from other countries or building new coal mines. This view is consistent with a recent report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), which found that the Government urgently needs to invest in clean steel production as the UK is behind the EU in terms of hydrogen-based steel production.

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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