The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the mid-18th Century. It was seen as a time of progress, of technological advances and of lives being made easier with the invention of machines that took labour away from workers.
It was seen as a good thing. However, when we
look back at that time, we can now assess the true impact that period had on our society, our economy and our environment. In 1882, the Edison Electric Light Station opened – the UK’s first coal powered power station.
In 1947 The Electricity Act merged 62 electricity companies and Britain saw the first integrated National Grid as we now know it.
In 1956, Britain opened its first nuclear power plant and in that same year the Clean Air Act was passed to try and limit the pollution caused by coal fired plants. By 1988 scientists had discovered that all the coal being burnt was producing acid rain and a new Large Combustion Plant Directive was introduced.
Between 2012 and 2018, seven coal and oil-fired power stations closed across the UK. We currently have eight nuclear stations still producing, with four of those set to ‘be retired’ within the next five years if they aren’t granted ‘life-extension’ by EDF, the owner company. Although nuclear power production is as contentious as the Brexit debate, there is no arguing that it is a cleaner way of producing energy. However, the other contenders for renewable energy are fast up and coming, and technology is making it easier and cheaper to use wind, solar and hydro power.
Although the NIMBYs (not in my back yard) fight against solar arrays and wind turbines, it is now possible and affordable to have solar panels on your roof which not only supply all your household needs but also feeds back into the grid. In 2018, Britain saw over one million homes with solar panels installed.
2019 is the year that will be remembered for solar power providing over a quarter of our power needs, and not only that, 2019 is the year when for two whole weeks, the UK was powered without burning a single lump of coal.
For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, all our electricity was produced by either nuclear, renewable or gas plants.
Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Doug Parr said; “This is a watershed moment in British energy history and a sign that we’re broadly heading in the right direction.”
However, in order to meet the government pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050, UK renewable energy will have to climb from the 48% we have now, to 80% in the next 10 years, if not before.