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Solar Has Generated More Power Than Coal For 6 Months In The U.K.

Solar subsidies and a tax on carbon emissions are producing historic shifts in Britain's electricity use.

Solar Has Generated More Power Than Coal For 6 Months In The U.K.

[Photo: m_pavlov/iStock]

In the last six months, the U.K. has generated more electricity from solar than from coal. This is amazing for two reasons. One is that the U.K. has burned coal continually for over 100 years, with May marking the first half-day of coal-free power in over a century. The second reason is that the U.K. isn't exactly known for its sunny weather.

According to U.K. climate-tracking site Carbon Brief, beginning July 1, the country went for 10 weeks straight with solar beating out coal. Solar capacity is now at 12 gigawatts, double the capacity at the start of 2015, leading to an overall output increase of 26%. However, capacity growth has slowed this year due to government subsidy cuts, which will affect future solar growth.

At the same time, coal generation has dropped 65% overall since 2015, mostly because gas has been cheaper to use, which is itself in part due to the doubling of the U.K.'s Carbon Price Floor, a tax on the emissions of greenhouse gases produced by the power industry.

The combination has led to a hot year for solar and demonstrates how we can shift to renewables relatively quickly by encouraging solar, wind, and hydropower, while simultaneously burdening the dirty old methods with taxes and emissions laws. And while gas has taken over from coal, the combined share of fossil fuels overall is still falling.

This is turning into a global trend. As we've seen in Portugal, Germany, and Costa Rica, short bursts of renewable-only power are swiftly followed by a more permanent shift in the balance between renewables and fossil fuels. Costa Rica, for instance, is now running on 100% renewable energy, joining countries like Albania, Paraguay, and Iceland. Pretty much everywhere has some combination or rain, wind, and sun, so given the right investment and political will, pretty much anywhere could switch over to renewables. Unfortunately, countries like Britain, Spain, and Poland are moving backwards, politically, either by cutting subsidies, or by trying to as a favor to the coal industry, but hopefully they will remain in the minority.

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