UK power sector slashes emissions by almost a quarter in just two years

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UK power sector slashes emissions by almost a quarter in just two years

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The government has confirmed emissions from the UK’s power sector have fallen sharply in recent years, detailing how carbon emissions from the country’s fleet of power stations plummeted 23 per cent between 2012 and 2014 to 121 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e).

The update was released late last week as part of a flurry of documents from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as Parliament broke up for the year. The progress report also confirmed the carbon intensity for all fuels in the UK’s power mix, including nuclear and renewables, stood at 394CO2/kWh in 2014, a reduction from 482 CO2/kWh in 2012.

The energy supply sector was the single biggest contributor the reduction in emissions experienced in recent years, the report said, with emissions from power plants falling 18 per cent since 2013.

There were also signs that a surge in clean energy investment is starting to deliver results. “Low carbon electricity’s share of generation increased from 30 per cent in 2012 to a record 39 per cent in 2014,” the report said. “Renewables’ share of generation increased from 11 per cent in 2012 to 19 per cent in 2014, also a record high.”

Overall, renewable electricity generation rose 21 per cent last year to 64.7 TWh, while generation from gas rose 5.6 per cent to 101 TWh.

In contrast, nuclear output fell 9.7 per cent to 64TWh due to planned and unplanned outages and coal was the biggest loser in the sector with generation slumping 23 per cent to 101TWh, due to the closure of several power stations and the conversion of a second unit at the Drax power station to biomass.

The government predicted these trends are likely to continue as the first wave of renewable energy projects to secure price support contracts move into construction and more coal plants are retired.

“The 2015 Energy and Emissions Projections indicate that this will fall steeply in the next few years as a result of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), the carbon price support mechanism and other electricity market reform measures,” the report states.

However, a growing number of green businesses and NGOs are concerned the decarbonisation of the power sector is not proceeding fast enough for the UK to meet its medium-term carbon targets. The country is currently off track to meet its carbon budget for the mid-2020s by around 10 per cent and ministers have said they will have to deliver a new plan to close the gap next year.

Clean energy industry insiders are also fearful the sector could face an investment hiatus in the coming years as a result of recent policy changes, such as the steep cuts to solar subsidies announced last week, the ‘halt’ to onshore wind farms, the shelving of a planned £1bn of demonstration funding for new carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, and continued uncertainty over the amount of funding available for clean energy price support contracts.

The latest report from the government reiterates its commitment to delivering a “secure, clean and affordable energy system” through a coal-to-gas switch, continued investment in nuclear, renewables, and energy efficiency, and a doubling of DECC’s innovation programme to £500m.

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