Less Coal, Less Gas, More Hope – predictions on UK’s electricity

It’s very encouraging how fast Great Britain’s emissions from electricity have reduced over the last five years – 2017’s figures from the excellent MyGridGB show how far we’ve come.

This is mostly down to 4 things:

  • closing coal power stations
  • replacing a lot of coal with gas
  • replacing some coal with wind, and some with biomass, mainly wood
  • using a bit less electricity

The future looks good for solar and wind power

Less coal, less gas

We’re doing well on using less coal, the single biggest step Britain needed to take on climate change. I think the government will keep their promise to shut coal power down completely by 2025. It’s been good to see climate minister Claire Perry championing phasing out coal internationally – and her promotion to attend cabinet in the reshuffle is encouraging too.

Then there’s a newer piece of good news to celebrate – in 2017 we started to use less gas. Having dashed for gas over the last 5 years to replace coal, which is great because gas has nearly half the emissions, we then needed to start phasing out gas. We’ve begun.

More hope – the future for UK’s electricity

It’s dangerous to predict, but I expect we’ll keep cutting down on coal and we’ll keep building more offshore wind, the price of which has dramatically fallen. There’s a chance we may restart building even cheaper onshore wind outside Scotland again soon, and Claire Perry’s promotion is a straw in the wind showing that’s grown a little more likely.

I expect England and Wales will continue to lag behind Scotland, except on solar. We’ll keep gradually reducing the amount of electricity we use for another 5 years or so at least. We’ll probably also press play on the solar button again after the recent pause, slowly for two or three years, possibly faster after that, and with battery storage. This is close to my heart as I’m part of a solar co-op named MaidEnergy, putting solar panels on school roofs, and we’ve been on that stop-start policy cycle.

My guess is that Hinkley C nuclear power station will be delayed, will be well over budget, and won’t start generating till after 2025, and even if we do complete it we won’t build any more. I reckon we’ll invest more in small scale battery storage in the next 2 years, try different versions, decide it works, and then start scaling it up to the point where it’s a game changer by 2025.

So the 2030 target of GB electricity emissions of only 100g/kwh doesn’t look impossible any more. I think we’ll miss the 2020 target of 30% renewable electricity but it’s not totally out of the question either – 2016’s electricity was 17% renewables, 2017 had 21%, so just maybe…

Will we keep up the good work on decarbonising our electricity in Great Britain (Northern Ireland’s making progress too but needs to quit coal) and take that momentum into decarbonising energy the UK funds in the global south, reducing our stubbornly resistant transport emissions, and emissions from heating and agriculture? I’m hopeful.


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