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Last Updated: Monday March 14 2011 11:25 GMT

Coal

Coal provides 28% of the UK's power*

Coal

What is it?

Coal is formed from ancient plants that have been squashed for millions of years under very thick layers of rock. These fossilised ancient forests can be dug up and burned to provide heat or electricity.

Strengths

It's well established, cheap and reliable. Large amounts of coal are buried under the UK. Prices are rising more slowly than for gas and oil.

Weaknesses

Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel; when we've burnt it all, we can't get any more. Burning coal releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and also sulphur dioxide which causes acid rain. Half the coal used in the UK is brought in, or imported, from other countries.

There's a lot of coal under the UK but most of it is hard to get at. That's because we've already dug up and burned the coal seams that were easiest to reach. The coal that's left would be so expensive to bring to the surface that no one would want to buy it. For that reason, large scale coal mining is likely to finish here in 10 -15 years time.

The future

The UK government says coal has an important part to play in meeting future energy needs. Money will be spent on new ways of making coal-burning power stations cleaner. That's important because new European Union rules will force power stations to either reduce pollution or close.

* Based on Department of Energy and Climate Change figures 2010. The exact proportions change yearly.



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