The United Kingdom broke its record for the number of days without using any coal-fired electricity — thanks largely to natural gas, Axios' Amy Harder reports.
Driving the news: The 18-day streak snapped late yesterday, according to the U.K.'s electricity operator.
Why it matters: Coal has historically been the nation's dominant electricity source but natural gas burns 50% less carbon emissions than coal.
- Due to several factors — notably a carbon price policy implemented in 2013 — U.K.’s coal use has plummeted, natural gas has risen to make up most of the difference, and emissions have dropped.
The big picture: Natural gas is controversial in the world’s energy and climate debate. It’s still a fossil fuel, but the cleanest-burning kind, so when it’s displacing coal, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions as the accompanying chart shows.
- The U.K. experience shows what an outsized role natural gas can fill in countries seeking to reduce or eliminate coal altogether.
The intrigue: Via The Guardian: "Coal has been used for electricity generation since 1882, when a plant opened in Holborn, London. However in 2018 the fuel made up just 5% of Britain’s electricity generation, a big decline from about 40% in 2012, according to [government] figures."
Yes, but: Longer term — as in many, many decades — remaining heavily dependent on natural gas is likely going to make it a lot harder (some experts suggest impossible) to cut GHG emissions to a level scientists say will avert the worst impacts of a warmer world.
- That’s because, while cleaner than coal, natural gas still emits GHGs. To the extent it remains in place for decades, that means less zero-emitting renewable energy.
- Technology that captures emissions could allow for aggressive gas usage in a world drastically reducing emissions, but it's expensive and not broadly employed.
What we’re watching: The International Energy Agency is set to issue a study in July looking at fuel switching between coal and natural gas and the latter’s role in a transition to cleaner energy.
Go deeper: Tale of four countries: The world’s evolving energy mixes