[Summary]Measuring the progress and impacts of decarbonising British electricity

  • Title:  Measuring the progress and impacts of decarbonising British electricity
  • Date: December 2016
  • Author: Staffell, I.
  • Published: Energy Policy

Most advanced economies around the world are striving to cut its greenhouse gas emissions through a diversity of policies. But how could one measure the progress? This paper gives a good example of examining which data sources to look into, how to calculate carbon emissions from different sources, and what uncertainties are.

The British government has been aggressively pursuing a low-carbon economy, with a particular emphasis on decarbonization of the power generation sector. According to the author, the UK is emitting 12,000 tons of CO2 per hour, which need to be reduced by 50 percent from 1990 levels by 2025.

The author begins with defining the terms and identifying the sources of energy information. For energy supply, the datasets provided by National Grid and Elexon were used. In regard to the emissions levels, both carbon intensity and fuel combustion efficiency should be considered as the annual emissions data available from the DECC is not a real-time basis.

Even with the consistent methods, understanding the results is complex; uncertainties include exclusion of embedded generation, the increasing share of biomass (for which efficiency calculation is highly uncertain), and the fact that nuclear and renewable generations are assumed zero-emission despite their non-zero life cycle values.

Nonetheless, the results are in line with the progress that has been materializing since 2012. Both the capacity and generation by fuel type indicate similar implications: a decrease in fossil fuel use, especially coal, and an increase in renewables, notably solar and wind. Nuclear generation remained largely the same in the past years. The paper also discusses demand, system extremes and prices.

Finally, the author analyzes the contribution to carbon reduction, from the carbon intensity and the role of the weather to the contribution of each fuel to emissions. There are many external factors that have driven this progress, such as shale gas revolution and the unusually warm weather that eliminates the needs for heating, but the British and pan-European policies have obviously played a pivotal role in bringing down the emissions levels.

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