Renewable power generation in the UK reached a record high in 2018, while electricity generated from fossil fuels fell to a record low. Lack of progress on transport means Britain is still likely to miss emissions targets.
FT 3rd Jan 2019 read more »
The amount of electricity generated in the UK last year fell to its lowest level in a quarter century, Carbon Brief analysis shows. At the same time, output from renewable sources rose to another record high, generating an estimated 33% of the UK total in 2018. In combination with nuclear, low-carbon sources contributed 53% of UK generation in 2018, with the share from fossil fuels at its lowest ever. Lower per-capita electricity generation and cleaner supplies have contributed roughly equal shares to the reduction in power sector CO2 emissions since demand peaked in 2005. This has helped to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions overall, even as the economy grows and population rises. The reduction in the UK’s per-capita electricity generation has saved 103 terawatt hours (TWh) since 2005, slightly more than the 95TWh increase in renewable output over the same period. If this electricity had instead been generated from gas, CO2 emissions for the entire UK economy would have been around 80 million tonnes (MtCO2, 20% )higher than the 368MtCO2 total seen in 2017. If it had come from coal emissions would have been some 180MtCO2 (50%) higher. Carbon Brief’s analysis of UK electricity generation in 2018 is based on figures from BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). See the notes at the end for more on how the analysis was conducted. Last year, Carbon Brief analysis showed that, for the first time, more than half of UK electricity generation was low-carbon in 2017. The UK trend since 2005 breaks with the economic orthodoxy that a growing economy must be fuelled by rising electricity use. Instead, the economy has continued to grow even as electricity generation has levelled off and then started to decline, as the chart below shows. The reasons for this decoupling are not fully understood. There are several known contributory factors to the decline in UK electricity generation and demand since 2005. They include product energy efficiency regulations, energy-efficient lighting, environmentally conscious consumers and economic restructuring, including offshoring of energy-intensive industries. For example, low-energy lightbulbs can cut electricity use by up to 90% while newer “white goods” such as fridges, freezers and washing machines can use up to 75% less electricity each year than the oldest models. There is significant untapped potential to continue cutting electricity use by replacing old appliances at the end of their lives with the latest models, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). While continued reductions in UK electricity demand are likely in the short term, the CCC and others expect UK electricity demand to increase in the medium term, if climate goals are to be met. This is because continued improvements in energy efficiency would be more than offset by increased demand from electric vehicles (EVs) and electric heat pumps. In effect, the UK would be electrifying part of the energy demand it currently meets using fossil gas and oil. For example, the CCC’s central scenario to 2030 anticipates electricity demand of 365TWh, up around 8% on 2018 levels. This allows for 2m heat pumps and 20TWh for EVs. Demand from road transport could eventually reach more than double this level, if the whole UK fleet switches to EVs.
Carbon Brief 3rd Jan 2019 read more »