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Drop in carbon pollution makes UK power system one of world’s cleanest

UK News | Published:

Britain moved 13 places up the league table of 33 large power-consuming countries to seventh, according to a report.

A view over houses in Knottingley, West Yorkshire with Ferrybridge power station behind

Levels of carbon pollution from Britain’s electricity generation have almost halved in just a few years, making the country’s power system one of the world’s cleanest, a report said.

Emissions associated with each unit of electricity produced fell 47% between 2012 and 2016 as coal was replaced by more gas and renewables, the Electric Insights study by Imperial College London for power company Drax said.

It meant Britain moved 13 places up the league table of 33 large power-consuming countries to seventh, having seen the fastest reduction in its carbon pollution from electricity generation of any country in that time.

Pollution levels fell from 516 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity in 2012 to 275g in 2016, the report reveals.

The amount of coal fired generation fell four-fifths in that period, it found.

The countries with lower 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.

South Africa and India have the dirtiest power systems in the league table, with most of their electricity generated from coal.

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Drax said the Government’s carbon price floor, which sets a charge for greenhouse gas emissions from power stations which is well above a Europe-wide price for the pollution, had driven the uptake in renewables and a shift from coal to gas-fired power.

Dr Iain Staffell, from Imperial College London, said Britain had entered the world’s top 10 of low-carbon power for the first time.

“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,” he said.

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Drax has switched half its coal-fired power station to biomass, woodchip sourced from places such as southern US forests, which is not subject to the carbon price, though 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.

Power generators are charged £23 a tonne of carbon dioxide pollution in the UK, compared to £5 a tonne in Europe.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The UK is a world leader in clean energy, reducing emissions faster than any other G7 nation, and our competitive approach to renewable electricity projects has reduced costs for consumers and provides long-term certainty for electricity producers.

“The UK’s Clean Growth Strategy has innovation at the heart of our approach, with over £2.5 billion 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.

“Industry and Government will continue to work together to deliver growth, build a thriving UK supply chain and seize commercial opportunities in the UK and abroad.”

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