Ariel view of field

The UK Government has set a clear deadline for coal fired power stations to cease production by October 2024 – so what are we doing to make that happen?

As Great Britain transitions towards net zero, one of the first areas to decarbonise will be the electricity system. To deliver a zero-carbon electricity system, one of the first major milestones is to completely stop generating electricity using coal by October 2024. As the Electricity System Operator, we’re actively planning for this by introducing new products and services that will replace coal in our generation mix.

Why is coal still running on the system? 

So far in 2023, we’ve had over 3,000 coal free hours with coal making up 0.61% of the GB electricity mix. Throughout the summer however, you may have seen that coal has still been part of the energy mix. While this may seem strange when there are high levels of wind and solar around, there is often a reason for the coal to be running.

This is because, at the ESO, we’re responsible for balancing the system. We take whatever energy sources are provided by the open market and sometimes coal maybe part of that mix. If the mix from the market isn’t quite right we will then take the lowest cost options available to us to balance and secure the system, again coal maybe part of that solution. 

Sometimes we may use fossil generation to provide system services

The electricity transmission system moves energy across Great Britain and there are some physical services that it needs to be able to do that safely and securely. Currently, some of those services, such as inertia, have mostly been provided by large spinning generators like a gas or coal fired power station. So, at times, we may ask a fossil fuelled power station to provide those services, if it incurs the lowest cost to consumers.

Making zero-carbon a reality

We have an ambition to deliver periods of 100% zero carbon operations by 2025 and provide all those critical system services from zero carbon sources. Across more than 30 different projects, we’re working hard to make that a reality. In January this year (2023), we operated the transmission system with 90% of the energy coming from zero carbon sources, and that may reach 95% this year. 

The journey to zero carbon operations

Great Britain is leading the way to a zero-carbon electricity system as we transition away from fossil fuels. In 2022, 95% of hours were less carbon intensive than the lowest carbon hour a decade earlier in 2012. So far, in 2023, we’ve only had one half-hour with a carbon intensity greater than 300g/kWh CO2e and in April this year, we had the lowest ever carbon intensity of electricity at 34g/kWh CO2e.


Quarterly Carbon Intensity of electricity

Figure: Trends in Quarterly Carbon intensity of electricity 

Find out more in our Operability Strategy Report and Markets Roadmap

We’re constantly working on projects to enable us to operate a secure, efficient and carbon free system, outlined in our Operability Strategy Report, and enable parties to support and deliver new services outlined in our Markets Roadmap.

Want to see our generation mix in real time?

If you’re interested in keeping an eye on our generation mix, view our dashboard here and our historic records of the energy mix here.

You can also download our free Carbon Intensity App from the Google Play Store or the App Store to see real time information on how GB’s electricity is being produced.