For one week, between May 3 and May 9, more electricity was generated by solar energy than coal in the UK. In April of this year, the same was true for two days, but not for a full week. On the two days in April, coal generated 3% of electricity, but solar generated 4% on one and 6% on the other.
The policy editor for Carbonbrief.org tweeted the information showing solar surpassing coal for the week in May.
— Simon Evans is on paternity leave (@DrSimEvans) May 10, 2016
Of course, the greater solar generation is due to more solar installations, but a decrease in coal use is also a contributor. “The economics of coal have deteriorated dramatically over the last 18 months. Coal-power plants are now heavily loss-making, and the reason is low wholesale prices… [and] what’s really hit coal is the increase in the carbon tax, the move from £8 to £18 under the carbon floor price floor last year, which really hurt them and flipped the economics over from barely profitable to loss-making,” said Peter Atherton, an analyst at Jefferies International bank. In 2016, coal has generated less than 10% of the UK’s electricity and it could actually be phased out by 2025.
It is great news that coal has fallen off to the point where solar generation is capable of surpassing it, but government cuts to solar support have resulted in a decrease in home solar installations. The Guardian reported that for February and March of 2016, 21 MW of small solar was installed in the UK, but for the same months in the previous year that total was 81 MW.
Burning coal is not only bad for the environment, as it contributes to the premature deaths of many people.
“We can now see that British power plants are responsible for very substantial emissions of classic air pollutants – nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides – and for the average European, that translates into more chronic illnesses like bronchitis, heart disease and asthma, and more premature deaths,” explained Julia Huscher, who works with the Health and Environment Alliance.