April 9: first full day that solar overtakes coal

solar Lightsource Renewable Energy photoAccording to analysis by Carbon Brief, 9 April marked the first full day when more electricity was generated by solar power than by coal.

Solar generated 29GWh of electricity, 4% of total use, while coal only produced a 21GWh output representing only 3% of demand. And this was not a one off occurrence as it was repeated the next day with solar providing 6% while coal stayed at only 3%.

While Carbon Brief has said that the milestone is largely symbolic – as solar has regularly topped coal at midday but cannot yet compete across a full week – they also have claimed that it reflects the “major shifts going on in the UK electricity system”.

Coal use in the UK has been in steady decline since 2012 though in 2015 it accounted for an average of greater than 10% of power generation over the year.

Speaking to the Guardian Peter Atherton, Energy Analyst, Jefferies, said: “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.

“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.

“More recently, coal has also lost out to seasonal reductions in demand as warmer temperatures set in, and a series of large coal plants have shut down. The UK has pledged to phase out unabated coal generation by 2025.”

Of course this milestone could not have been reached without the incredible rise of solar power over the last few years. In 2011 the supply was close to 0% of energy generation but in 2015 that had risen to an incredible 2.2% over the year.

This milestone is seen as a reflection of the change in the UK’s energy supply from large centralised generation to a more distributed mix of thousands of smaller sites.

See the full Carbon Brief analysis here.

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