UK confirms plan to phase-out unabated coal generation by 2025

By Erin Voegele | January 08, 2018

The U.K. Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has confirmed how it intends to phase-out unabated coal-fired power generation by 2025. In response to the news, the U.K. Renewable Energy Association is calling on the government to support additional coal-to-biomass conversions.

In November 2016, the BEIS opened a public consultation on its proposals to end unabated coal generation in Great Britain by 2025. The consultation closed in February 2017 and resulted in 5,939 responses. In September 2017, the U.K. prime minister confirmed that the government would proceed with action to regulate the closure of unabated coal power generation. On Jan. 5, the BEIS published a document that provides the government’s response to the consultation, acts as a statement of policy on how it intends to put the 2025 closure into effect, and sets out the government’s intended next steps.

The document stresses that the level of coal-fired generation in the U.K. has already dropped significantly. It fell from 22 percent in 2015 to 9 percent in 2016. During the second quarter of 2017, the portion of coal-fired power generation fell to a record low of 2 percent. In April, the U.K. experienced the first 24-hour period without coal on the system since the first coal-fired power station opened in 1882.

The BEIS said that it has ruled out mandating carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology be deployed on existing coal-power stations. The government indicated it plans to set a new emissions intensity limit for generating units. The BEIS said that it is considering an emissions intensity limit of 450g CO2 per kWh. The limit will apply only to units burning solid fossil fuels with a thermal capacity of more than 300 MWth. According to the BEIS, compliance with the emissions intensity limit will be on a net CO2 basis, in that emissions from other fuels cofired with solid fossil fuel will be included in the calculations for emissions intensity. The emissions intensity limit will not apply to units that fully convert to other fuels.

Within its document, the BEIS said that it recognizes that co-firing with solid biomass at relatively high levels is one way that generators might be able to meet the emissions intensity limit. The BEIS also noted that it received several comments during the consultation concerning the use of unsustainable biomass in units that cofire. “To avoid this, for the purposes of compliance with the emissions intensity limit, the net CO2 emissions from coal units cofiring with biomass will be calculated as the sum of the emissions from the coal element of the fuel diet, plus net life-cycle CO2 emissions attributable to the biomass element of the diet,” said the BEIS in the document. “It is recognized that this will have the incidental effect of increasing the relative proportion of biomass that would need to be combusted with coal in order to remain under the emissions intensity limit. This does not preclude any other biomass sustainability requirements that might be introduced in the future.”

For its next steps, the BEIS said the government is considering the appropriate legislative vehicle for introducing the emissions intensity limit and other measures required to implement it. The limit will take effect Oct. 1, 2025.

The REA called the phase-out a positive step for the U.K. energy sector and decarbonization. However, the REA also said the implementation tool should go a step farther to restrict the deployment of diesel generation and called on the convert to commit to supporting additional coal-to-biomass conversion.

“We welcome the confirmation of this coal phase-out decision today and the further details regarding how this historic transition will be implemented,” said Frank Gordon, policy manager at the REA.

“The way the government will implement the phase-out of coal commits them to using carbon intensity as a measure to exclude certain technologies from the capacity market, which is a major auction that procures back-up power capacity,” Gordon continued. “Using maximum carbon intensity levels is something we have been calling for over the past year, and we now urge the Government to commit to further reducing the carbon intensity of technologies that can bid in so that dirty diesel facilities will no longer be eligible to bid into the scheme.

“The constructive decision to phase-out coal is also somewhat undermined by recent proposals from the Department to restrict the development of new biomass plants in Government auctions, including a lack of funding for coal-to-biomass conversion,” Gordon said. Converting retiring coal facilities to sustainable biomass is the most cost-efficient way to transition these existing assets to this new low-carbon future and to retain and grow jobs and investment.”

A full copy of the government’s response to the unabated coal closure consultation can be downloaded from the BEIS website