Coal’s demise is Renewables’ gain

For the first time in the UK, on Saturday the 9th of April 2016 solar panels generated more electricity than coal. Analysis from Carbon Brief confirmed that on that day solar generated 29 GWh of electricity – 4% of the total used and 8 GWh more than coal who’s 21 GWh attributed 3% of the country’s usage. This was repeated the following day with solar increasing its share to 6% whilst coal remained at 3%.

Although solar has yet to produce more electricity than coal over a week or more this milestone does represent a major shift in UK energy production. Coal is being used less and less in the UK electricity production since 2012. In 2015 it fell to its lowest level since the 1950s, although until recently had still accounted for 10% or more of the overall electricity produced daily.

In 2016 coal has supplied less than 10% on 18 of 102 days including every day in April so far.

Even during the miner’s strike in the early 1980s coal was still the largest provider of UK electricity. As coal generation continues to fall other sources will overtake it on a regular basis.

Peter Atherton, energy analyst at investment bank Jeffries speaking to The Guardian about this 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… [and] 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.

Coal generation over the past fortnight was half that in the previous two-week period. Reduced demand along with increases in nuclear, solar and gas-fired generation have picked up the slack.”

Solar generation has risen significantly this decade. In 2015 approximately 4GW of additional capacity was developed bringing the total capacity up to 10GW. Last year it generated 2.2% of all electricity in the UK, in 2011 it was almost zero.

Although we at ILI Energy promote a diverse mix of energy generation the reduction in coal produced electricity is to the benefit of the entire country. As well as aiding significantly towards our carbon reduction targets it leads to cleaner air and a better environment. The rise of solar in its place is also agreeable as it means that one carbon heavy industry is not replaced by another.

In other news it was announced last week that the East Renfrewshire Renewable Energy Fund will replace the existing Whitelee Wind Farm Fund which was set up in 2007 to allocate an annual sum of money to community charitable, educational or environmental projects.

Andy Cahill, East Renfrewshire environmental Director made the announcement “The new East Renfrewshire Renewable Energy Fund will combine the income from Scottish Power Renewables from the existing Whitelee Fund and a new funding stream from the Middleton Windfarm to create a single bigger fund available to a greater number of projects across the whole of East Renfrewshire.

“The existing Whitelee fund – managed by ERC on behalf of Scottish Power Renewables – has already invested more than £1.5m in community projects and has prioritised investment in projects within five km of the windfarm – namely Eaglesham and Waterfoot. However a new windfarm in Middleton is already operational and a similar community benefit arrangement is in place.

“It was agreed that combining the two funds with a new single set of criteria would be of benefit to the entire community”

It is estimated that the fund will receive approximately £165,000 per year and will be managed by a new panel. Prior to the first meeting the council will meet with members of the community to discuss the proposed priorities of the new fund plus a further engagement process will be launched in the coming weeks.

Over the past nine years many worthy causes have benefitted from the fund generated by the Whitelee Wind Farm and it isn’t an isolated case. The majority of renewable energy developments in the country have a community benefit fund attached to them. In some cases the fund contributes directly to the local authority who in turn allocate it to qualifying projects. In others, agreements are set up between the operator and local charities, causes, projects etc.

In many cases they are voluntary however the developer rightly understands that it is important to give back to the community that they are operating in.

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