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Progression towards a fossil-free UK?

power station fossil fuels

•   Government hopes to cut out coal entirely by 2025
•   UK lagging behind Sweden, Norway and Iceland  
•   Improvement to incentives would help momentum

Good news: the UK has kicked coal. It may not be for good – but it's a start. 

There have been several recent drops to using zero coal to generate electricity, and it is historically significant. It's said to be the first time we've been free of the black stuff since the first coal-fired power station opened for business in 1882.

Decarbonisation deadlines

The UK showing signs of shaking the innovations of the industrial revolution and perhaps moving on towards a cleaner one is undoubtedly good news, but there's still room for more ambition in decarbonising the UK's energy supply. 

Another key date is 2025, when the government is looking to have coal phased out of the mix altogether. To put the recent coal-free spells into perspective, the average contribution of coal to electricity generation in the UK is still around 30 per cent, and the UK lags behind others when it comes to the greenest ways of doing things. 

Europe's green giants put UK to shame

Sweden, for example, is by far and away the EU's top performer on renewable energy, with over 52 per cent of its energy supply coming from green sources at last check. The Swedes have even bigger ambitions: to be the one of the first fossil-free states in the world. Sweden though is outdone by European countries sitting outside of the EU with Norway achieving 69 per cent of energy supplied from renewable sources and Iceland on 77 per cent.



Back within the EU and a number of nations have recently enjoyed their own milestones; renewables supplying all energy demand for the first time. Portugal managed four days without fossil fuels

All the while, the UK is fourth bottom among EU nations for renewables as a percentage of total energy supply. It's undeniable there have certainly been some positive signs in the last few years. The proportion of electricity produced from renewable sources is growing, but there's a long way to go. Modest improvements in incentives could do a lot to maintain the momentum made with technologies like solar PV, whether for individual households or communities, and greater investment in onshore and offshore wind power would help us make the most of the UK’s tremendous potential. 

Gas or green?

Current noises from decision-makers seem to suggest a slow shift away from fossil fuels, with shale gas providing a bridge between coal and low carbon options such as nuclear and renewables. Brownfield sites and motorway junctions have been identified as prime targets for fracking, with new projects given the go-ahead.

It can only be hoped that in the dash for gas, policies don't lose sight of the end of the bridge – a modern, truly low carbon economy built to last and with renewables right at the centre. And let’s not forget that using less energy in the first place should be the most important priority of all. 

What are your thoughts on this? Post a comment below or tweet us at @energysvgtrust. Alternatively, find out more about renewables for your home.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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