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  • Writer's pictureSimon Mosdal

Looking at the UK’s energy sources: coal

Coal, once the dominant source of energy in the UK, has seen a dramatic decline in recent years. While it still plays a minor role in electricity generation, the focus is firmly on transitioning away from this high-polluting fossil fuel. Let's explore the history, drawbacks, and future of coal in the UK's energy landscape.


Coal-fired power plants were the backbone of the UK's energy industry for centuries. Coal is a readily available fossil fuel that can be burned to generate electricity. However, its dominance has waned due to growing concerns about its environmental impact.


Coal combustion releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, a major contributor to climate change. Coal-fired power plants also emit air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, impacting air quality and contributing to respiratory illnesses.  Additionally, coal mining can have negative environmental consequences on landscapes and water resources.


The UK has committed to a significant reduction in its reliance on coal power. The government has set ambitious targets for phasing out coal entirely by the mid-2020s. This shift is driven by environmental concerns, the rising cost of coal compared to cleaner alternatives, and advancements in renewable energy technologies.


Coal is unlikely to play a significant role in the UK's future energy mix. The focus will be on cleaner and more sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, nuclear, and potentially biomass with sustainable practices. The UK's transition away from coal signifies a global trend towards a cleaner energy future.


The decline of coal power in the UK represents a crucial step towards a greener future. By embracing renewable energy sources, the UK can ensure a cleaner and more sustainable energy landscape for generations to come.


Pros of coal:


  • Abundant and relatively cheap fuel source (historically).

  • Existing infrastructure for power generation.


Cons of coal:


  • Dirty fossil fuel with high greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Significant air pollution from burning coal contributes to respiratory illnesses.

  • Mining and transportation of coal can have negative environmental impacts.

  • Declining role in the energy mix due to environmental concerns and cost-competitiveness.

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The UK Zero logo beside a phone with the UK Zero home screen showing the UK's energy mix on the 11th May 2023.

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