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UK coal-fired power plants face closure

World Coal,

New projections from the UK’s National Grid Plc suggest that most coal-fired power plants in the country will be closed in the next ten years.

A spokesperson for the National Grid said it expected to see “very aggressive” shutdowns of coal-fired power plants, particularly following climate regulations due to come into force in 2016.

As few as three coal-fired power plants could remain operational from 2023 onward, projections indicate.

“The closure of the coal power [plants] means that additional generation is required to maintain the security of supply standard, resulting in new gas-fired generation commissioning, particularly from 2018 – 19 to 2021 – 22,” National Grid said in a report.

The National Grid said that there would be no connected coal-fired power plants operating after 2030 because of the requirements implicit in following the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive.

Richard Smith, the head of the National Grid’s energy strategy and policy division, said that coal plants would likely be replaced by gas-fired power plants as countries look to transition to a lower carbon future.

Since 2012, the UK has shuttered 8.2 GW of coal generation capacity. 1 GW can supply electricity and energy to about 2 million European homes.

What takes the place of coal?

Over Q1 2014, coal generation supplied almost 40% of the UK’s electricity. 23% of the country’s electricity came from gas, and 19% from wind, hydro and bioenergy.

Analysts have been critical of plans to move away from coal-fired power plants, particularly when they are replaced with gas and biofuels.

Research from analysts at RWE suggests that the methane released in leaks from gas plants (and over the course of the entire gas logistical chain) has an equivalent “climate relevance” to the carbon emissions released from coal burning.

Biofuels, meanwhile have been described as causing “environmental vandalism” by the Guardian’s George Monbiot. Burning biofuels has been linked to mass deforestation in both Southeast Asia and the Amazon, as well as potentially huge rises in food prices, as food that could be used to feed global populations is burnt in power stations. Monbiot explains “coal burning is a lot less damaging” than burning biofuels.

Despite these concerns, however, gas and alternative energy sources, such as biofuels, seem likely to take the place of retired coal-fired capacity in the UK. In order to keep in line with EU rules to curb carbon emissions, the National Grid said 13 GW of coal-fired generation capacity was at risk of closing by 2023. That loss of generation capacity will leave a gaping hole needing to be filled.  

Written by Sam Dodson

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