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Carbon emissions associated with UK’s electricity generation have halved since 2012

Image credit: DT

An Imperial College London study has found that carbon emissions associated with Britain’s electricity generation have nearly halved between the years 2012-2016.

The study, for power company Drax, found that the emissions associated with each unit of electricity produced fell 47 per cent in this time period, in part due to coal being replaced by gas and renewables.

The researchers also found that further carbon savings could be achieved if consumers delayed their consumption of energy to coincide with off-peak usage times, for instance, by washing clothes at night.

“Widespread load-shifting across the country would allow low-carbon baseload generators to have longer running hours, and mean less need for diesel and coal peaking plants,” the report reads.

“It would also smooth out power prices between peak and off-peak times, reducing trading risk for all market participants. Ultimately, this could allow the system to absorb more intermittent renewable energy, thus lowering emissions.”

Significant changes to the way in which Britain generates electricity has seen the country move 13 places up the league table of 33 large power-consuming countries (those which produce over 100 TWh annually) to seventh since 2012.


This is the fastest reduction in its carbon pollution from electricity generation of any country in that time and is partly thanks to an 80 per cent drop in coal generation over the period.

The report also notes that the Carbon Price Floor - a top-up tax to boost the cost of carbon in the EU -  is significantly higher in the UK than other European countries. It costs £23 per tonne of CO2 in the UK versus just £5 per tonne on the continent.

Pollution levels were found to have dropped from 516 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity in 2012 to 275 grams in 2016.

The countries with lowest carbon pollution from their electricity system all have extensive hydropower resources, such as Norway, which has the cleanest power, or in the case of France relies heavily on nuclear reactors.

But while Britain’s carbon intensity may have halved, most other countries have only moved by 10 per cent over the last four years. South Africa and India have the dirtiest power systems in the league table, with most of their electricity generated from coal.

“Britain is reducing its carbon emissions from electricity faster than any other major company, and this has happened because the carbon price and lower gas prices have forced coal off the system - the amount of coal-fired power generation in Britain has fallen 80% between 2012 and 2016,” said Dr Iain Staffell, a researcher at Imperial College London.

The report was commissioned by power company Drax which has switched half its coal-fired power station to biomass. Biomass - woodchip sourced from places such as southern US forests - is not subject to the carbon price, although some environmental groups have raised concerns about how environmentally-friendly the energy source is.

The company is calling for the government to continue to support a “meaningful” carbon price in the autumn Budget to ensure the UK’s commitments on climate change are met.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The UK’s Clean Growth Strategy has innovation at the heart of our approach, with over £2.5bn of government investment in the UK from 2015 to 2021."

“The message we will be taking to this week’s COP23 climate change summit in Bonn is that you don’t have to choose between economic growth and carbon reduction.” 

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