Britain has recorded its first full day without electricity from coal-fired power stations since the Industrial Revolution.
Britain’s National Grid says the milestone took place last Friday, April 21. The energy provider said it was the first time the country went without using coal as part of its energy mix for a full 24-hour period in 135 years.
There have been other times when Britain did not use coal, but none as long as this. In May 2016, the country went for 19 hours without burning coal to produce electricity.
Coal helped to power Britain’s Industrial Revolution, which changed the world’s economy. But the cost was extremely high levels of pollution. In the 1950s, clouds of smoke from coal burning combined with low-lying fog. The resulting smogs killed thousands of Londoners.
Times have changed since then. Britain’s last deep coal mine closed in 2015. All coal-fired power stations are to be closed by 2025.
Many people have welcomed the moves. Professor Paul Ekins of University College London is one of them.
"To be honest, it's a time for the human race to celebrate, I mean certainly the humans who live in the UK. Coal has been a fantastic energy source, and no one would want to decry its historical role. But it is the dirtiest energy source. It is dirty both locally and it's dirty globally."
Nuclear power and natural gas still form a big part of Britain's energy mix.
The website Gridwatch.co.uk estimates that about half of British energy on Friday came from gas, with about one-fourth coming from nuclear power centers.
Paul Ekins says the coal-free milestone was reached through a huge expansion of renewable energy.
"So that's both solar and wind (power). And when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing together, the capacity of renewables now generates of lot of electricity. And it was that fortuitous circumstance that brought us to a day without coal."
But Britain is still more dependent on coal than other countries in Europe. Renewable energy met all of Portugal’s energy needs over four straight days in 2016.
Such progress offers developing countries a chance to avoid the kind of industrial pollution that affected Britain.
"It's much cheaper to build decentralized solar than it is to put in a grid with a standard fossil fuel infrastructure. With the costs of solar of tomorrow, it is going to be an absolute no-brainer."
In the United States, President Donald Trump has signed measures to ease federal rules on the environment. He has promised to put coal miners back to work and invest in what is being called carbon-capture technology.
"My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. We are going to have clean coal. Really clean coal."
But many critics say the falling cost of renewable energy compared to coal means it will likely make little economic sense to re-open the mines.
I’m Marsha James.
Henry Ridgwell reported this story for VOA News. Marsha James adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
milestone – n. an important point in the progress or development of something
smog – n. a cloud of dirty air from cars, factories, etc.,
decry – v. to say publicly and forcefully that you regard (something) as bad, wrong, etc.
fantastic – adj. extremely good
capacity – n. the amount of something that can be produced or managed by a factory, company, etc.
generate – v. to produce (something) or cause (something) to be produced
fortuitous – adj. happening by chance
cheaper – adj. less costly
infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly
absolute – adj. complete and total