Skip to content

Coal Free? But We Still Rely Heavily On Fossil Fuels, Justin!

June 9, 2020

By Paul Homewood


h/ts All Round!! 


Harrabin’s sidekick Justin Rowlatt has been busy cutting and pasting today’s article from Carbon Brief.

(Question – why does the BBC need both an Energy & Environment Analyst – Harrabin, and a Chief Environment Correspondent – Rowlatt, particularly when all they do is cut and paste?)



Britain is about to pass a significant landmark – at midnight on Wednesday it will have gone two full months without burning coal to generate power.

A decade ago about 40% of the country’s electricity came from coal; coronavirus is part of the story, but far from all.

When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted; the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network.

The four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down.

The last coal generator came off the system at midnight on 9 April. No coal has been burnt for electricity since.

The current coal-free period smashes the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes which was set in June last year.

The figures apply to Britain only, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid.

But it reveals just how dramatic the transformation of our energy system has been in the last decade.

That the country does not need to use the fuel that used to be the backbone of the grid is thanks to a massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade.

Two examples illustrate just how much the UK’s energy networks have changed.

A decade ago just 3% of the country’s electricity came from wind and solar, which many people saw as a costly distraction.

And it is not just coal that is being eclipsed by renewables.

So far this year, renewables have generated more power than all fossil fuels put together.

Breaking it down, renewables were responsible for 37% of electricity supplied to the network versus 35% for fossil fuels.

Nuclear accounted for about 18% and imports for the remaining 10% or so, according to figures from the online environmental journal, Carbon Brief.

"So far this year renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that’s never happened before", says Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief.


"With gas also in decline, there’s a real chance that renewables will overtake fossil fuels in 2020 as a whole."

Rowlatt claims this transformation has been due to a massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade. Rowlatt is still new to the job, so perhaps somebody ought to tell him that this massive investment has only been made possible because of the obscene subsidies for renewable energy, which we all pay for on our bills. This year alone, this will cost the country over £12bn, a figure which will remorselessly increase for many years to come.


Despite his attempts to praise up renewables, the grid is still heavily reliant on proper, dispatchable power. Currently wind power is supplying just 2% of demand. In contrast, gas, nuclear and biomass are providing 75%. (Maybe, as the new Environment guy, somebody should also tell Rowlatt that burning wood pellets at Drax is not actually a very good idea, as it is neither clean, green or low carbon,).


In the last week, although wind has peaked at around 40%, gas has still provided the vital role of balancing the grid, never dropping much below 20%:



He also includes this chart for global low carbon power:



Rather dishonestly, he omits to tell us how this compares to total generation, viz:



Source: BP Energy Review

Unreliable wind and solar power only supplied 7% of the world’s electricity in 2018.

With gas prices tumbling, any sensible country would be looking to optimise gas in its energy mix, not do the reverse. But Justin Rowlatt won’t hear that from his chums at Carbon Brief.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    June 9, 2020 2:31 pm

    “No coal has been burnt for electricity since.”

    We don’t primarily now burn coal for electricity, we burn it to have dispatchable spinning generation available as insurance AND for grid stabilisation.

  2. JimW permalink
    June 9, 2020 2:36 pm

    I am thinking that after the covid-19 reaction about disease etc ,when these idiots talk about coal being a ‘dirty fuel’ they really mean , its dirty, filthy ,ooh I could get my hands all black!
    Some humans want to live in a machine sterile world.

  3. June 9, 2020 2:44 pm

    It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is, but the BBC bias is getting worse (except for climate change and renewables, where the bias has been 100% for many years). The number of false statements and one-sided articles by the BBC is unbelievable.

  4. Broadlands permalink
    June 9, 2020 3:00 pm

    In the photo there were earth-moving tractors loading up the backup ‘dirty’ coal. Were they electric vehicles using batteries made from electricity derived from burning carbon… or from solar and wind?

  5. StephenP permalink
    June 9, 2020 3:18 pm

    IIRC don’t the the Dutch supply us with some electricity that is generated from coal?

    • bobn permalink
      June 9, 2020 4:14 pm

      Yep, weve been using power imported from Europe and some of that may be coal fired. so we havent had coal free power these last 2 months.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      June 9, 2020 5:21 pm

      Correct (and I have posted about this before) we have the ability to import from Northern Ireland- Moyle Interconnector, Republic of Ireland – East West Interconnector, The Netherlands – BritNed, France IFA1 and Belgium Nemolink, Later this year the ElecLink from France (via the Channel Tunnel) and IFA2 will also come online.
      Both Irish connections and the Dutch one import electricity with at times a high proportion of coal generation.
      You can follow real time data on this link
      Right now we are exporting over those interconnectors because we have a large fleet of gas turbines still available which is just as well as wind is currently running at sweet FA.

  6. johnbillscott permalink
    June 9, 2020 3:29 pm

    With a lot of talk about EV’s being a solution prospective owners should look at this site before committing based on manufacturers data.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      June 9, 2020 4:38 pm

      £6k might persuade a few suckers? Of course no one will save anything, the cars will just stay £6k more expensive, and the rich will benefit at the expense of the poor yet again.

      • ianprsy permalink
        June 9, 2020 4:58 pm

        “… and the rich will benefit ..” A bit like the consequence of government intervention in the housing market. Will they ever learn?

    • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      June 9, 2020 8:18 pm

      EV range – – living in central Washington State, only June, July, and August (meteorological summer) are warm enough to not degrade range because of the cold temperature.
      In the J/J/A period one ought not drive between about Noon and 8 PM. Temperatures then are often above 80°F and infrequently near 100° (27 to 38 °C).
      I forgot to mention mountains! So I did.

  7. Al Davies permalink
    June 9, 2020 3:49 pm

    Those coal power stations will still be burning coal on hot standby in case the so called renewable power drops. Coal furnaces can’t be switched on and off. It can take days to get them up to heat if they are allowed to cool.

    • Gamecock permalink
      June 9, 2020 10:28 pm

      And their fixed cost continues. Renewables are NOT paying for them to be on stand by.

      ‘The current coal-free period smashes the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes which was set in June last year.’

      Until the coal boilers are cold and the plants boarded up, this is a STUPID proclamation.

      W/S continue to get free backup.

      W/S is energy decadence. This crap will continue only as long as you can afford it. That point approaches.

  8. June 9, 2020 3:56 pm

    “according to figures from the online environmental journal, Carbon Brief”

    Carbon Brief is an online climate activism blog.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      June 9, 2020 4:40 pm

      We know! But nice critique.

      • June 10, 2020 12:42 am

        Thank you.

      • June 10, 2020 1:04 pm

        Nobody likes a smartarse. Maybe you did/do know, but I didn’t ! You can’t answer for me. Most polite of you chaamjamal.

  9. ianprsy permalink
    June 9, 2020 4:55 pm

    The irony-free BBC is showing a Covid-related update to the series:

    The hosts are annoying but they can be zoned out. The scale, speed and complexity and sheer engineering quality of the operations is amazing, often involving very high energy consumption. Whilst watching, I’m forced to wonder how they’d cope with energy that’s not only more expensive but intermittent. Then there’s the sourcing of raw materials and packaging and distribution infrastructure. Should be compulsory watching for our politicians

    • June 9, 2020 5:26 pm

      They are excellent programmes, showing excellent engineering. But you do have to ignore the huge number of “wow”s. Can you just imagine one of these factories run by the bureaucrats who run the NHS, the BBC, the government etc etc?

  10. Stuart Brown permalink
    June 9, 2020 4:57 pm

    Thank you for your analysis Paul. You say:
    “somebody should also tell Rowlatt that burning wood pellets at Drax is not actually a very good idea, as it is neither clean, green or low carbon”

    But, but, he’s got this guy:
    “We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future,” explains Will Gardiner, the chief executive of the power group.

    “It has been a massive undertaking and then the result of all that is we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions from more than 20 million tonnes a year to almost zero.”

    Since burning wood emits more CO2 than burning coal per GWh, a better idea would have been to just plant (a lot) more trees and carry on with the coal. Then make new houses with the trees, locking up the CO2 for decades. The BBC allows comments on this stuff for some reason – some good ones, though I didn’t learn much new. One person claimed it takes 7 years to grow the trees Drax burns in a year, any idea what area that would cover? Presumably we don’t have room in the UK!

    (BTW you have the IEA chart in the post twice.)

    • Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
      June 9, 2020 8:42 pm

      There are “fast growing Poplar trees” planted and harvested in the USA, and I suppose other places. I believe the initial use was for paper. Parts that can’t be used for a product – see oriented strand board (OSB), can be used in a “thermal” power facility. These are small producers of power but there are many.
      For examples, see the list “fossil/biomass generation” under this chart:

  11. June 9, 2020 5:01 pm

    The eternally cash strapped Biased Broadcasting Co employs the useless Horridbin, and now Mr Rowlatte as well. Why ? Both appear either wilfully ignorant, or else could not care less about facts. I suggest that neither has any right to masquerade as a journo. They are both gross insults to that profession.

    • Gamecock permalink
      June 10, 2020 2:10 pm

      No. They are representatives of the profession.

  12. June 9, 2020 5:19 pm

    The good news is the BBC has lost 35% of its audience in the last 6 years. Loss of revenue about 1.2 billion. It’s viewers have a median age of 60. How long can this dinosaur carry on.

    • June 9, 2020 5:20 pm

      its not It’s .

      • Rudolph Hucker permalink
        June 12, 2020 7:01 pm

        A family who live in the shadow of Drax when it was coal burning had washing hanging on a clothes line,since wood pellet usage they now have to use a canopy to the clothes clean. The costs must be astronomic for using pellets, such as huge storage buildings when pellets get wet they are useless, coal can be stored outdoors in all weathers!
        Plus the pellets have been transported thousands of miles by road and rail.The barmies are running the asylum, all this when there are millions of tons of coal on the doorstep.

  13. June 9, 2020 5:24 pm

    Yes. The Beeb has lost all sight or recollection of its Charter. It would be a kindness to all to put it out of its utter misery and incompetence. So now, please.

  14. June 9, 2020 5:37 pm

    Rowlatt has just been on Radio 4’s PM programme. Absolutely awful propaganda and biassed reporting.

  15. MrGrimNasty permalink
    June 9, 2020 5:55 pm

    Apparently ‘BBC Coronavirus: Daily Update’ now means live funeral coverage for a drug-taking criminal, and a rotating headline of “UK going 2 months without coal.”

  16. mikewaite permalink
    June 9, 2020 7:02 pm

    I saw the item towards the end of the 6 pm news today, mentioning the 2 months (the 2 months of the lockdown of shops and businesses) without the need for coal power. Then they showed the replacement for coal, a view of offshore wind farms, and a
    shot of the control room for the Grid . Behind the presenter was a board showing the contribution of different sourcs of power . Wind was at 1.7% . They did not refer to that embarassing fact, nor to the dominant role of gas..
    Next came a shot of a handful of wood pellets for Drax. Emit no carbon dioxide the presenter said. Next up ws a man from Drax (or Grid) saying that the carbon dioxide that the wood pellets do not produce would be captured and sent across country and into the North Sea, locking it away and preventing climate change. As a piece of supposedly science based journalism it was absolutely appalling.. How much worse can it get?

    • June 9, 2020 8:27 pm

      Knowing the BBC, I’m sure they are planning on how to make it much worse.

  17. Ben Vorlich permalink
    June 9, 2020 9:08 pm

    What nobody seems to mention is that because most of the EU is moving to biomass thanks to subsidies swathes of trees are being felled in Europe.
    We have had a house in Limousin for nearly 20 years and much old woodland and forest in the surrounding area is being cut down and used to produce electricity, or I think that is what is happening to it although some locals reckon it’s going to China. This has several knock on effects, the native woodland habitat is removed with all that implies. A lot of rural inhabitants use wood for heating and the price is increasing as is the price of electricity. This has been going on for several years, and woods are not replanted in fact windturbines replace many woods. Furthermore many trees are felled so that large fields for maize cultivation are created. This maize is then converted into bio-ethanol and methane.

  18. June 10, 2020 7:03 am

    The 6 o’clock news ran this story and before going to show us what a wind farm was they showed the National grid control centre which clearly showed wind at 1.7% of total power generated and gas at 68%. To deliberately create a false impression in that way is basically to lie.

    • June 10, 2020 8:21 am

      Wind is up to a puny 4.7% this a.m. with gas at 56%.

  19. Ian Wilson permalink
    June 10, 2020 8:11 am

    I heard the Radio 4 item which Philip Bratby mentions and noticed they seem to have forgotten that in January’s anticyclone coal was consistently generating twice as much electricity as wind. Solar? – don’t ask.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      June 10, 2020 9:38 am

      This time of year is almost the peak for solar in the UK, in London that means the sun reaches about 60 degrees elevation and the day is over 16.5 hours, at the minimum in December it’s 15 degrees and under 8 hours! Useless.

  20. It doesn't add up... permalink
    June 10, 2020 5:19 pm

    I took a look at the market value of generation and interconnector imports in March, using half hour settlement period data and System Sell/Buy Prices from BM Reports for balancing at gate closure.

    Here are the results:

    CCGT £36.02/MWh
    COAL £45.80/MWh
    BIOMASS £30.96/MWh
    NUCLEAR £29.46/MWh
    WIND £25.70/MWh
    Pumped Storage £67.41/MWh
    Hydro £32.28/MWh
    OCGT £203.78/MWh
    OTHER £32.84/MWh
    INT France £31.08/MWh
    INT Britned £31.88/MWh
    INT Belgium £31.14/MWh
    INT Moyle £25.26/MWh
    INT Ireland £24.11/MWh

    So the market value of coal output was higher than for everything else except for peak lopping Open Cycle Gas Turbines. The Moyle and Ireland E-W interconnector imports are of course surplus wind from Ireland, which is why they have similar low values to the wind itself.

    For completeness, the values on exported energy and cost of pumping for storage were:

    Pumped Storage £17.76/MWh
    INT France £16.05/MWh
    INT Britned £14.05/MWh
    INT Belgium £16.32/MWh
    INT Moyle £37.67/MWh
    INT Ireland £44.21/MWh

    Ireland was paying for shortages of wind, meanwhile we exported at giveaway prices to the Continent when we had a surplus.

  21. It doesn't add up... permalink
    June 10, 2020 5:23 pm

    P.S. It would be nice if the BBC actually had a proper energy correspondent who knew about energy. BBC complaints were most affronted when I suggested that Harrabin didn’t qualify as being sufficiently knowledgeable about energy and that they should employ a real expert, as I set out why he was wrong on one of his reports I was motivated to complain about.

  22. Rudolph Hucker. permalink
    June 12, 2020 8:28 pm

    Fortunately there are other news broadcasters, so we can avoid the Biased Broadcasting Company..

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: