The UK’s electricity grid has decarbonised at a faster rate than other countries in the last decade – with emissions falling twice as quickly as in any other major economy, a new report has found.
Independent analysis conducted via Imperial Consultants, by academics from Imperial College London for Drax Electric Insights shows the UK’s move away from coal to renewable power sources, such as biomass and wind, has dramatically driven down carbon emissions.
Renewable power has grown six-fold in the last decade, helping the UK to cut its carbon intensity by 58%. This is double the reduction seen in other major economies over the same period.
Generation from coal fell from 30 per cent to just two per cent of power produced over the period, with renewables rising at the same time, from eight per cent to supplying 42 per cent of the country’s electricity.
The changes to where our electricity comes from means British households have each reduced their CO2 emissions by three quarters of a tonne per year compared to the start of the decade, which is roughly equivalent to the CO2generated by a family of four taking a return flight from the UK to Spain.
Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London, and lead author of the quarterly Electric Insights reports, said, “The UK has decarbonised its power grid at an astonishing rate. Over the last decade the country has transformed itself from relying on coal to keep the lights on, to having its first coal-free month since the industrial revolution. While this progress in the power sector has been rapid, we now need to decarbonise wider society by using electricity to heat our homes and power our cars to achieve net zero by 2050. As the world marks five years since the Paris Agreement the UK offers an example of how fast energy transitions can be made.”
The UK’s power system is set to grow even greener after the Prime Minister set a new target of installing 40 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030. However, the Drax Electric Insights report also outlines the need for the UK grid to become more flexible to deliver this ambition, with careful management required to keep the system stable once this ambition is realised.
Upwards of 37 TWh of excess electricity will be generated annually amid diverging weather and demand by 2030 – with wind and solar power being unable to provide all the services needed to stabilise the system and maintain secure supplies. One solution to this challenge is to expand storage capacity by increasing the role pumped hydro storage plays in storing excess power when supply outstrips demand and then to rapidly plug gaps when the wind is not blowing, to provide fast, flexible power and greater system stability.
Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO said, “The UK has made incredible progress decarbonising the electricity system over the last decade – for its part Drax has drastically reduced its carbon emissions by 85% as a result of transforming the power station in North Yorkshire to use sustainable biomass instead of coal making it the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.
“We share the Government’s ambition to go even further. By embracing bioenergy with carbon capture and storage and flexible technologies liked pumped hydro storage we will enable the UK’s power system to evolve and provide the secure and sustainable electricity supplies a zero carbon economy needs, supporting the government’s ten point plan for climate change, whilst levelling up the economy.”
Drax recognises the potential of pumped hydro storage and is considering how its iconic Cruachan site could be expanded.
The Group aims to become carbon negative by 2030 through pioneering bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at Drax Power Station, in North Yorkshire, which could deliver millions of tonnes of negative emissions and simultaneously provide the grid with vital stability services while creating thousands of new jobs.