The UK will phase out coal-fired power generation by 2024, the government has confirmed – bringing a previous deadline forward a year sooner than initially planned.

An intention to make the earlier phase-out was indicated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year, but today’s announcement confirms new legislation for the move will now be introduced “at the earliest opportunity”.

Coal power accounted for less than 2% of the UK’s energy mix in 2020, compared to 40% just ten years ago, with only a handful of coal-fired units remaining.

Earlier this year, French utility EDF confirmed plans to close its West Burton A plant in Nottinghamshire, England by September 2022, leaving the UK with just one commercially-active coal facility by the end of next year.

Ahead of the COP26 climate summit in November, which will be hosted by the UK in Glasgow, major economies are under pressure to eliminate coal from their energy systems as part of commitments to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement.

“Coal powered the industrial revolution 200 years ago, but now is the time for radical action to completely eliminate this dirty fuel from our energy system,” said UK energy and climate change minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

“Today we’re sending a clear signal around the world that the UK is leading the way in consigning coal power to the history books, and that we’re serious about decarbonising our power system so we can meet our ambitious, world-leading climate targets.”


Accelerated UK coal phase-out deadline a ‘remarkable achievement’, but must be backed up with further policy action

Gas remains the single largest contributor to the UK energy mix, while renewables like wind and solar are taking an ever greater share.

In 2020, wind power accounted for 24% of electricity generation in the country – it’s highest-ever contribution, according to climate think tank Ember.

Offshore wind has emerged as a major driver of the UK’s decarbonisation ambitions, and the government has set a target to install 40GW of the energy source by 2030, up from around 10GW today.

But while the UK has made several broad announcements for how it will accomplish its energy transition – including a ten-point action plan and a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 78% by 2035 – many within the industry have made repeated calls for more detailed policy signals for how these goals will be realised.

A report published last week by the UK’s top climate advisor, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), aimed criticism at policymakers for acting too slowly in their delivery of key policies that will shape the country’s low-carbon transformation.

It stated: “This defining year for the UK’s climate credentials has been marred by uncertainty and delay to a host of new climate strategies. Those that have emerged have too often missed the mark. With every month of inaction, it is harder for the UK to get on track.”

Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of trade group Energy UK, said the rapid phase-out of coal power is a “remarkable achievement” that shows when a clear direction and the right policies are in place, major changes to the energy system can be made “quicker than anyone believed possible”.

“What we need now is support for the rapid growth of renewables, and secure investment in other low-carbon sources to replace fossil fuels and ensure security of supply as we increase electricity demand for heat and transport.”

Long-term, stable policies are now necessary to give both industry and investors the confidence to implement further changes, she added, as the UK seeks deeper decarbonisation over the coming years.