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Lara Williams

Coal’s False Comeback Flashes a Warning Signal on Climate

A net-zero electricity grid is achievable, but only if governments accelerate the transition to renewables.

He’s not making a comeback. Thankfully.

He’s not making a comeback. Thankfully.

Photographer: Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images

Did coal just make a comeback? For the first time ever last week, Britain had to call on emergency coal generation to keep the lights on, after keeping plants in reserve all winter.

It happened on March 7 as an Arctic blast put parts of the UK into a deep freeze. High demand, low winds and a lack of imports due to a general strike in France left National Grid ESO, the UK’s electricity grid operator, unable to maintain a safe cushion of spare capacity, forcing it to fire up two coal-fired contingency units. They were disconnected from the grid after the peak evening period, but the fact that they were used at all has been, for some, a source of dismay, as well as an opportunity to criticize net-zero policy, with one tweet describing renewables as a “flaky part-time employee”.