The amount of coal burned in the UK is falling rapidly, new government data shows.
The collapse has been particularly dramatic in the power sector, where monthly coal use is down 70-80% compared to last year. The UK’s top-up carbon tax, rising output from renewables and the closure of several coal-fired power stations are behind this trend.
Carbon Brief has plotted two charts to illustrate what’s going on, using new data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Coal use by sector
Between 1995 and 2005, the UK’s annual demand for coal was roughly constant, though there were seasonal ups and downs (see below). Coal-fired power generation then started to fall, as a result of falling electricity demand and cheaper gas.
After around 2011, UK coal use increased on the back of low prices. The European market was flooded by cheap coal after shale gas started to displace coal demand in the US. However, this UK coal renaissance was short-lived, and coal demand has been falling rapidly since 2013.UK monthly coal use by sector between 1995 and October 2016. Hover over the chart for more information. You can show or hide each series using the legend and zoom in by dragging an area with your mouse. Source: Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Energy Trends section two. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Month by month coal use
You can see the seasonal trend in coal use more clearly in the chart, below. As temperatures rise through spring and summer, electricity demand falls and power stations burn less coal. Each autumn, this trend is reversed as cooler temperatures set in.
You can also see how unusual coal use has been in 2015 and 2016, show by the red lines in the chart, below. What’s even more remarkable about this collapse is that UK coal us was already at historic lows, having fallen to its lowest level since the industrial revolution by 2014.UK monthly coal use between 1995 and October 2016. Source: Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Energy Trends section two. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.
Coal power output hit zero for the first time in more than 150 years in March 2016. It has been so low that output between April and September was less than that from the UK’s solar panels.
The UK’s top-up carbon tax, the carbon price floor, doubled in April 2015. Three of the UK’s remaining coal plants then closed a year later, in spring 2016. The UK plans to close all unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025.