COVID-19 Accelerating the End of Fossil Fuels

June 11, 2020

Simon Evans on Twitter:

Great Britain has gone two month without coal and yes, that is a big deal.

It’s gone from 40% coal powered to ~2% in 8yrs. And plenty for other countries to learn from the experience.

How did it happen and what does it mean?

Thread with charts…


During the coal-free two months, renewables were the largest source of electricity in Britain

36% renewables, of which
––––>17% wind
––––> 9% solar
––––> 9% biomass
––––> 1% hydro
31% gas
22% nuclear
9% imports, of which
––––> 5% France
––––> 3% Belgium
––––> 2% NL 


In fact, British renewables have generated more electricity in 2020 to date than all fossil fuels together.

That’s never happened before.

Renewables might -or might not- beat fossil fuels over the full year, but the trend is only going in one direction:


When will the coal-free run end?

Nothing’s guaranteed, but it will probably continue until the end of the summer.

That would push the record out towards five months without coal power in Britain.


How is this possible?

The big picture is that coal is being squeezed out of the British electricity mix by falling demand and renewables.

The same goes for gas.

–check out the shrinking dark grey wedges here


But there’s also been a tragic contributor to the situation we’re in today: The coronavirus lockdown

During the two months without coal, demand has been 15% lower than in the same period last year.

(Demand was already falling yr-on-yr; this is additional)


The transformation in Britain’s electricity mix isn’t just about coal (did I say that already?)

The ‘carbon intensity’ of our electricity has fallen an amazing two-thirds since 2012, from 508gCO2/kWh to an average of 173gCO2/kWh in 2020 to date. Wow.


The reduction in the carbon intensity of British electricity is so amazing, I decided to make a second chart to show it in a different way.



9 Responses to “COVID-19 Accelerating the End of Fossil Fuels”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    How the coronavirus pandemic slashed carbon emissions — in 5 graphs

    Global carbon emissions have so far slashed by more than 8%. But energy consumption is already rebounding, and the pandemic could register as little more than a blip in the climate system.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    The US could shift to a 90% clean electricity supply within just 15 years, a new study has shown, and reduce wholesale power prices by up to 10% in the process.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    If it switched to emergency mode the US could almost certainly be using a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2030. Solar, wind, and battery prices continue to drop faster than any expert projected, and deploying them faster will make them drop even faster. With about 3 more capacity doublings likely for wind and solar each, if the trend holds of a 20% price reduction for each doubling, prices are likely to drop by at least half from current prices, on whatever time scale we choose—more for batteries.

    85% of new energy in the US this year has been renewable. All new energy was renewable last month, and with even another 20% reduction it’s likely there will never be another fossil or fissile fuel (fff) facility built; anything that were built would be a stranded asset the public would get stuck paying for. It will also make more and more sense not only to make all new capacity renewable, but to replace all old fff with renewables immediately.

    Simply through wise policy Norway has the highest per capita ownership of EVs; now at 64% market share, with Sweden at 30%, Iceland, 25%, Netherlands, Portugal, France, 10-11%, Germany 4%…. US ~ 2%. Even the US is only 6 doubling times from EV dominance; with effective policies with an emergency declaration, we could be there in 10 years.

    Leading the public into emergency mode

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      If it switched to emergency mode the US could almost certainly be using a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2030.

      With round-the-clock news media, emergency mode can only trigger efforts with short-term turnaround: Write a law, evacuate a community, vote in some new candidates. Power plants involve negotiated contracts and municipal/regional budgets. Fervent interest in a long-term project can’t survive the next pathogen, protest or even celebrity criminal trial.

      Meanwhile, too many Americans have personal distractions like unemployment, excessive debt, family member with home care needs, relative with a drug/gambling problem, domestic abuse, loss of home (or its value) from flooding or wildfires, etc.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        The US won WWII in emergency mode. Though many people went on with their lives more or less the same, millions voluntarily risked death and millions of others sacrificed in large and small ways. 40% of the US’s and UK’s vegetables were grown in home gardens; recycling was increased dramatically, 10% of the population moved for war-related work. There were profiteers and uninterested parties, but

        Normal Mode Emergency Mode
        Priorities Many balanced priorities Solving the crisis = One top priority
        Resources Distributed across priorities and saved for future. Huge allocation of resources towards solution
        Focus Distributed across priorities Laser-like focus
        Self-esteem Source Individual accomplishment Contributing to the solutio

        • J4Zonian Says:

          Trying to format the graph that rhymes apparently ignored caused that comment to be posted prematurely. To continue:

          There were profiteers and uninterested parties, but most of the people and institutions cooperated in a clearly different mode from normal, for 4 years. In Britain, Germany, Japan, the USSR… emergency mode was much deeper and lasted much longer, however we dislike the goals and outcome.

          Normal Mode
          Many balanced priorities
          Resources distributed across priorities and saved for future
          Focus distributed across priorities
          Self-esteem from individual accomplishment

          Emergency Mode
          One priority: solving the crisis
          Resources allocated mainly towards solving the crisis
          Laser-like focus
          Self-esteem from contributing to the solution

  4. John Oneill Says:

    United Kingdom carbon intensity for power is still about four times higher than that of France, on average. Nuclear comprises about 80% of French electricity and 50% of Belgian, probably more when the wind is low in all three countries, so imports are also significantly from nuclear, and help lower the overall emissions figures.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      French nuclear still needs backup for the increasinly frequent heat waves that make the plants’ cooling water too warm to run them.

      Swedish and Finnish seawater-cooled plants have to shut down when sea temps get too high, which will become more frequent.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      72% nuke, and the program is in a shambles. Flamanville is flaming out and the nukes will all inevitably be replaced by clean safe renewable energy, almost certainly faster than is planned. The faster it happens the more money they’ll save.

      France Announces Cuts To Nuclear & Coal, Boost For Wind & Solar
      Plans to reduce by 50% the share of nuclear power by 2035
      …to close the country’s remaining 4 coal burners by 2022 and 14 of the country’s [34] first-generation nuclear reactors by 2035.

      I’m not surprised you’re tooting the French horn; it’s the only country in the world with even that high a percent of nuke energy, and there are only 3 other countries over 50% (Hungary, Ukraine, Slovakia). Belgium is just under.

      At least 65 countries have grids over 50% renewable; 38 at or over 72%, and 23 at or near 100% RE, despite the renewables industry having come together, with wind and solar at price parity, only about 5 years ago. A bunch more countries are closing in on 50% RE, including Germany, Spain, Turkey, Chile, Finland, and Morocco (with a high percent of solar, including CSP).

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