Yesterday's trending news story about the GB electricity system operator bringing a coal-fired power station into service has really sparked discussion around 2050 targets. We are in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, yet yesterday we also saw an inquiry start into a new coal mine in Cumbria. The idea that the UK using a coal-fired plant being newsworthy is in itself interesting, given that in Q1 2006 40% of all our electricity was generated using coal plants and that as recently as 2016 the figure for the whole year was reduced to 9%.
Surely the more significant point is that 46% of all electricity was coming from gas-fired plants and with huge carbon impact. The gas angle to this story probably has greater significance, as we have seen a continued surge in global gas prices post-pandemic, which translates to the very substantial price change that domestic GB consumers will see in their energy bills from 1 October 2021. Much of the increase in gas prices has been caused by a prioritisation across much of Europe of gas over coal in power generation. The real question is whether this is a temporary blip or the start of a longer-term trend as the shape of energy demand in the "new normal" post-COVID world becomes clear. If it is the latter, then achieving net zero by 2050 will have just become substantially more challenging and the likelihood of hydrogen and carbon capture (CCUS) playing a larger role may just have increased.