New reports claim that coal was outdone by solar in the U.K. last month, but fail to mention the fact that solar only produced 6% of the country’s energy needs in May and that government policies are forcing coal plants to close.
While the numbers from Carbon Brief’s report show 1,336 gigawatt hours (GWh) from solar and only 893 GWh from coal, the story behind the numbers is that coal has been under a government-led assault, and as plants close down, it stands to reason that solar, with its financial blessing from government, would take up some of that slack.
The UK government has a stated goal of closing all coal-fired plants by 2025. They have also imposed a carbon tax for fossil fuel industries that rise annually, called the Carbon Price Floor (CPF). For instance, in 2014 the CPF rate went from £9.54 to £18.08 per tonne of CO2 produced. One of the stated goals of the CPF is to ‘force fuel switching from coal to gas’, and with such hefty annual increases, that seems to be happening.
“This carbon tax is slowly forcing the premature closure of the backbone of our electricity generating base.” Tony Lodge, research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, wrote in an article for The Telegraph.
Coal power makes up about 20% of the U.K.’s total power, while wind makes up 11% and solar makes up roughly 5%. So while renewable energy generation is on the rise, it still would not be able to cover to hole left in energy generation with the exit of coal.
There is a forecast of 56 peak GWh for the U.K. this winter, and with only 53 GWh available, this could be the first time that the U.K. hasn’t been able to meet demand. Which means the government may actually need to pay some now closed or idled coal plants to power back up and meet the energy gap.
Since 2012, twelve coal plants have closed in the U.K., which accounted for 16.4 GWh of capacity, leaving five coal plants which can generate 10 GWh.
So while solar has indeed outpaced, barely, coal this last month, it’s largely because of the governmental pressure being put on phasing coal out entirely.
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