The no-coal goal – how renewables are edging out fossil fuels
19 October 2020 | Matt Mostyn
The push for a coal-free future
In a welcome move for renewables and the environment, we went 100% renewable with our electricity on 1 October 2020.
It’s all part of our effort to make living a zero carbon life possible. And we’ve calculated that going from 50% to 100% renewable electricity, we could save 466,706 tonnes of carbon emissions per year1. That's a 24% reduction in the total emissions from our members' home energy use, and it’s the equivalent of taking around 177,958 diesel cars off the road for a year!2
In 2015, for instance, we were the first mainstream provider to shun coal (as well as nuclear) from our fuel mix. That move came as a response to the growing problem of coal’s role in climate change. And we’re not alone in our efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Today, coal is increasingly being phased out.
What is coal – and why go coal-free?
Our love affair with coal has been a long time in the making. It’s actually been in use in Europe since the time of the Romans, with coal cinders found in ruins as far back as 400 CE.
Since then, the shiny black fossil has played a key role in our development. It’s fuelled the industrial revolution, ended wars and revolutionised travel. It’s warmed our homes, cooked our food and lit up our neighbourhoods.
Yet for all the good it’s done, coal has also left a trail of devastating environmental and health impacts. Burning it releases harmful toxins, and emits large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. From the noxious ‘pea-soupers’ that suffocated London in choking fumes last century, to coal’s role in pushing global temperatures to record-breaking levels, we’re now paying a steep price for using it.
In fact, coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels – and it’s responsible for over 0.3C of the 1C increase in global average temperatures. That alone makes it the single largest source of global temperature rise3.
We’ve seen a huge rise in coal use in the early 2000s, with it peaking worldwide in 2012. Yet since then, we’ve taken some big steps to reduce our reliance on it.
We completely removed coal from our fuel mix in 2015, by purchasing certificates showing that any non-renewable electricity we sold came from natural gas – which is cleaner and lower carbon than coal-fired power.
Back in 2015 we also ruled out nuclear as a power source – even though it’s less carbon-intensive than other fossil fuel alternatives. The bottom line is there’s no safe, reliable solution for dealing with the radioactive waste that nuclear plants leave behind. We want more for our planet than that!
Our move to 100% renewable electricity is the next step on our journey to kick carbon – and bring clean, affordable energy to everyone.
The end of coal?
It’s time for a gigantic ‘phew’ – because thanks to increasing investments in renewable energy, the UK no longer needs fossil fuels to be the backbone of the National Grid.
We reached a big milestone on 16th June 2020. It was on this day that the UK enjoyed a 67-day, 22-hour, 55-minute coal-free streak. Put another way, we went over two months without using any coal-fired power, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution!
The lockdown played a key role in that, causing our electricity demand to fall to record lows. That’s because schools, shops, factories and restaurants all closed, lowering overall demand for electricity – and that meant low-carbon energy sources were able to make up a greater part of our energy system.
But it’s not just lockdown that’s created this. Coal made up only 2.1% of the country’s total power mix in 2019. It’s a dramatic fall from almost 25% just four years ago4 – and it’s even more impressive when you consider how we relied on coal for 70% of electricity in 1990.
We’ve been one of the first countries in the world to commit to reducing our reliance on the black stuff. New policies are already leading to renewables playing a much greater role. In fact, renewable energy supply is now at record levels, standing at 33%5.
In more good news, the deadline for the phase-out of coal from Britain’s energy system is planned to be brought forward a year, to 1 October 2024. Our last coal power plants will disappear by 2025. The era of dirty coal-fueled power is effectively over.
Your part in our renewable future
It’s time to fully rely on renewables – because the planet won’t wait. Here at OVO, we’re doing all we can to cut carbon across our business to net zero by 2030. (That’s two decades ahead of the government’s target for the UK!). At the same time, we want to help OVO members halve their carbon footprints.
These are big old goals, and we’ve got a long way to go. But if you love the planet and want to help us, get involved! Even the little steps we take together will add up to huge change. Not sure where to start? Check out a few carbon-kicking tips in our blog about easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint everywhere.
1 - We calculated this by first calculating the total carbon emissions that would be caused from our forecasted supply of electricity and gas from 1st October, at 50% renewable electricity as standard. We then calculated how much carbon would be released by the same amount of energy where 100% of the electricity was renewable (renewable electricity is much less carbon intensive). The difference between these is the potential carbon saving.
2 - The average diesel car emits 0.17336 kg carbon per km driven (based on BEIS emission factor). So 466,706,000kg divided by 0.17336 = 269,212,044km. Since the average UK car drives 9,400 miles