Falling demand drives UK emissions reductions

A decrease in power demand was the single biggest driver of emissions decline in the electricity sector in the past decade.

From 2010 until the end of last year carbon emissions from the UK's power sector fell by around two thirds, as the industry rapidly shifted away from coal and natural gas towards renewables such as wind and solar, according to a study undertaken by Imperial College London and commissioned by energy supplier, Drax.

The report detailed how CO2emissions from the power sector stood at around 161m tonnes in 2010, but subsequently fell to 54m tonnes last year, as output from new wind and solar projects surged and coal plants were shut.

Electricity demand, which fell 13 per cent over the decade, delivered around a third of the decline in carbon emissions in the sector over the period, while wind energy delivered a quarter of the reduction.

The fall in power demand came even as the population grew by 7 per cent and GDP rose by a quarter as measures such as more energy-efficient lighting, manufacturing and other efficiency measures took hold.

However, this decline could be reversed in the years ahead with the rise in the use of electric vehicles and household heat pumps, meaning further decarbonisation cannot be achieved through a reduction in demand alone.

The reportwarns that with the greater reliance on weather-dependent sources ‘system operability will undoubtedly become more difficult in the years to come’, with a need for increased system support services and greater flexibility.

Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London and lead author of the report, said: “In the past decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in Britain’s power system, which has transformed at a speed never seen before.

“Several factors made significant contributions to falling emissions including carbon prices, coal retirements, conversions to biomass and the growth in wind capacity. But reductions in electricity demand dwarfed all the others – helping to push down power prices and environmental impacts.

“If this pace of change can be maintained, renewables could provide more than half Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and the power system could be practically carbon free.”

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