Proposals have recently been published by the EU (1) about how to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 to no more than 60% of the 1990 output, a key staging post toward an 80% reduction by 2050. The UK Energy Minister, Ed Davey has welcomed the proposals and indeed has said (2) that Europe should be prepared to accept a 50% target. The International Energy Agency estimates(3) that the global demand for coal will need to fall by 45% by 2050, by comparison with 2009 levels
Producing energy by Coal is one of the biggest sources of UK carbon emission. By head of its population the UK has been the World’s top carbon polluter due to its historical reliance on coal as an energy source (4).The Climate Change Act of 2008 committed the UK Government to ensuring a net reduction (by comparison with the 1990 baseline) of at least 80% in the UK’s carbon account by 2050.
The UK Committee on a Climate Change, an official body established by the Act says that there is good scientific evidence to show that our climate is changing because of the emission of greenhouse gases. The Committee advises (5) that, without efforts to cut the global use of fossil fuel, global warming this century will have significant effects on human welfare and ecological systems. The Committee said that to meet carbon budget targets will require the UK to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 3% a year. It recommended (6) That the Government should continue its policies toward achieving a low-carbon economy.
As Godfrey Boyle, Director of the Open University Energy and Environment Research Group, warned at the time of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, although it would be possible for Western Europe to meet its energy needs from renewable or sustainable sources within the next few decades, this depended on political will and there were powerful vested interests in the energy field resisting such a move.(7)
Part of the UK’s policy has been to seek to reduce demand for energy by increasing the thermal efficiency of our buildings and making our appliances more energy efficient, The Energy Companies have recently been lobbying hard against the requirement that they should make financial contributions to this approach.
The UK’s present energy system largely consists of a limited number of differently fuelled power stations located on remote and dispersed sites feeding inputs into a national grid. According to Greenpeace, two thirds of the energy available from fossil fuels is lost as waste heat through the cooling towers of stations,and through transmission (8). Fuelling those power stations by transporting coal to them by a fleet of lorries increases the inefficiency of the process and further adds to the emission of greenhouse gases. After energy electricity, transportation is the next largest contributor to greenhouse gases.(9)
The arrival of Shale Gas, coupled with the desire to diminish the use of coal in order to meet the targets for greenhouse gases has led to a significant fall in the worldwide price of coal.
In the UK, coal’s future use in power generation would seem to be dependent on the power stations involved developing carbon capture systems.
Eggborough Power Station in North Yorkshire, which currently accounts for 4% of the Uk’s Electricity, recently announced plans not to keep its coal-fired plant alive after 2015. Neil O’Hara, Chief Executive of Eggborough, was quoted on 3 January 2014 (10) as saying: “Unless a viable solution is found with Government, the most likely outcome now is that Eggborough will no longer be supplying electricity to the grid beyond 2015. Impending EU regulation and the escalating impact of the carbon price floor mean this is unfortunately the rational economic conclusion based on the information we have available at this time.”
- European Commission 2030 White Paper on Climate Change
- Department of Energy and Climate Change Press Release 22 January 2014
- Department of Energy and Climate Change Press Release 20 Nov 2013
- Environment Letters Journal January 2014
- Committee on Climate Change website. 29 Jan 2014
- Fourth Carbon Budget Review December 2013
- Energy Policy and Climate Change – The Copehagen Conference, Open University
- Greenpeace, Decentralising Power – An Energy Revolution for the 21st Century
- US Environment Protection Agency
- Daily Telegraph