This is what Britain’s energy system should look like

We should give ourselves a collective pat on the back for moving to green energy solutions. And also for cleaning up carbon emissions from power generation. But just what should Britain’s energy system should look like?

Over the years Britain has lagged behind the other big European nations on green energy. Not any more. In fact:

last year’s 66% fall in coal generation marked the largest annual switch in fuel for power – even greater than the 33% decline in coal power during the 1984 miners’ strike.


the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.1% between 2017 and 2018, thanks in large part to the rapid decline of coal-powered electricity generation.

We lead the way in offshore wind power. Indeed:

This is the first time for zero-carbon sources including wind, solar and nuclear power, to outstrip fossil fuels, making 2019 the cleanest year on record for the UK, according to statistics released by local electricity and gas utility National Grid Plc

UK and German energy compared

  • Contrast this with a country such as Germany, one of Europe’s main user of coal power of the last century. Germany led the way in in solar and wind energy in the early 2000s. Yet its economy has remained dependent on coal-fired power. Some of the reasons for this are:
    its expansive manufacturing base, and
    its decision to halt nuclear power development.

In Britain, however, a different mix of factors has spurred the large-scale development of renewables. These include:

  • Britain is an island,
  • union power had reduced, and
  • the reformation of the energy market.

The result of all this is:

the UK’s per capita CO2 emissions are almost 40 per cent lower than Germany’s, the country that “progressive” Britons almost reflexively assume does everything “better than us.”

Here, the end of coal power is already in sight; there, they’re planning to use it until at least 2038. But Britain’s remarkable achievement, but it has come at a cost.

Stabilizing the energy grid

Those coal power stations were dirty, but they were also reliable. They helped to stabilise the energy grid. In their place, we now have a fragmented and hugely complex patchwork. The Big Six generators, a relic of nationalisation, are now rapidly departing. This leaves lots of thinly capitalised small power suppliers. Hardly a week goes by without one collapsing. Without radical action, the blackout last August, which left more than a million people without electricity, is set to become normal Especially as Britain is one of the first nations to commit itself to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Yes, we’re heading in the right direction but if ever there was an immediate task for our politicians, it lies in defining what Britain’s power system should look like.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash

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