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Low carbon transformation is bearing out in statistics

BRITAIN’S electricity system has undergone such radical changes that carbon emissions from the sector are now so low the ‘dirtiest’ hour of generation is cleaner than the average hour from just a few years ago. 

Low carbon transformation is bearing out in statistics

The latest Electric Insights report, produced by researchers at Imperial College London in collaboration with regional power house Drax, analysed data from January to March 2017. It reveals the dirtiest hour for generation during this winter period was at 8.30pm on January 16.

On that cold and calm winter evening 424 grams of CO2 were released per kWh (g/kWh). Compare this to the average hour from 2009 to 2013 when 471 per kWh (g/kWh) was being produced. In fact, during the first quarter of 2017, emissions dropped by 10 per cent compared to the same period in 2016 and a massive 33 per cent from Q1 in 2015.

While this year’s mild winter played an important role in reducing emissions, the reduction in the use of coal should not be underestimated. Policy levers like the carbon tax continued to push coal off the system and the dramatic growth in renewables also reduced its role.

The quarter saw:

  • Output from coal generation fell by 30 per cent compared to the same quarter in 2016
  • Renewables hit new energy production records: wind – 11.3 TWh, biomass – 4.4 TWh, hydro – 1.6 TWh
  • Solar hit a new record peak output: 7.67 GW

Dr Iain Staffell, of Imperial College London, said: “The dirtiest hour in the first quarter of 2017, in terms of carbon intensity from electricity, would have seemed clean just a few years ago.

“However, coal output – largely driven by the carbon tax – has fallen 82 per cent in the last four years and has been replaced by mid-carbon gas, low carbon biomass and imports, as well as zero carbon wind and solar.

"Together these have driven decarbonisation in line with, or even slightly ahead of, the country’s targets – which are the most ambitious in the world.”

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