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The UK’s energy systems operator, National Grid ESO, has called on reserve coal power units to tackle expected electricity supply shortages. This comes despite the country’s pledge to phase out coal by 2024, ahead of the country’s coldest night of the year so far.

A statement from National Grid ESO said on Tuesday that two coal units at EDF’s West Burton coal plant had been synchronised to the UK power grid.

The move follows government concerns last year about electricity shortages from gas power plants, after Russia cut gas supplies to much of Europe. The energy grid operator warned in October last year that households could experience a series of three-hour power cuts in winter as a worst-case scenario if cold weather persisted and new gas supplies were not secured successfully.

Contracting coal plants as back up energy suppliers is part of the government’s plan to prevent such power cuts. National Grid ESO first took the decision to temporarily extend operations at EDF’s West Burton A plant in June last year.

The extra generation from the coal units enabled the grid to produce enough power to cancel an electricity margin notice issued late on Monday. This flagged a requirement for more energy between 16:30 and 20:30 GMT on Tuesday. The coal units were de-synchronised from the grid and stood down after the expected window of high demand ended at 20:30 GMT on Tuesday.

The ESO has asked some coal power stations in the UK to warm up as a precautionary measure several times already this year. However, this will be the first time any of the reserve stations have been used to produce power for the grid.

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By GlobalData

At time of writing, the UK receives around 2% of its electricity supply from coal, compared to almost 40% a decade ago. In 2022, coal use dropped to its lowest level since 1757.

In June 2021, the UK government brought forward its deadline to phase out coal from the country’s energy supply entirely from 2025 to 2024.