Fuel for UK Electricity

This is quick sweep of UK aspects of electricity generation, with more detail below (in emissions order) for Nuclear, Hydro, Offshore Wind, Onshore wind, Bio-energy, Tidal Energy, Natural Gas, Coal.

A BBC Radio 4 Programme The Bottom Line hosted by Evan Davis in Feb 2016 contains a good discussion about the direction of UKs power sources. The discussion between Jeremy Leggett of Solar Century, Paul Cowling of RWE Renewables and Juliette Davenport of Good Energy noted that the Paris Agreement aims at power being 100% renewables by the 2nd half of 20th century and included highlights such as:

  • Renewable costs are comparable to building NEW gas power stations (and only need subsidies in the short term to become comparable to the cost of power from old stations that have covered their capital costs already).
  • Energy gets $5 trillion subsidy each year globally. See IMF report and Subsidies Friend or Foe?
  • A complete rethink is required for electricity distribution, now that 1 m homes have PV, and now that 15% of our electricity is from renewables, up from 5% in 2013. (note up to 25% in Q2 of 2015)
  • No longer should we be thinking in terms of big centralised power stations with radiating cables to homes. We need to rethink the network, both from and to private premises. PV on individual buildings is cheaper, because it does not need the infrastructure of cables etc.
  • Storage is already available, and in the pipeline, so that cars can have spare batteries to store renewable electricity for home, and be available quickly for travel. See Renewable Energy World for update.

Switching on – How Renewables will Power the UK from the Friends of the Earth in May 2017 details current approaches to ‘keeping the lights on’ with renewable power.

Climate Change Act

Clean electricity generation is the biggest contribution to meeting the  Climate Change Act 2008 that “commits the UK to reducing emissions by at least 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels (in conjunction with reducing demand) . The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)…is the department responsible  “……works to make sure the UK has secure, clean, affordable energy supplies.” and is required to respond to the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change to meet the UK targets.

The Committee on Climate Change published ‘Power sector scenarios for the Fifth carbon budget‘ in Nov 2015.”Several low-carbon options should reach maturity by or during the 2020s. If unabated gas-fired generation faces the full cost of its carbon emissions (i.e. a ‘target-consistent’ carbon price, estimated at £78/tonne in 2030….), these options could be delivered without further subsidy, even when intermittent generation faces the full system costs it imposes.

The Committee on Climate Change published: Meeting Carbon BudgetsProgress in reducing the UK’s emissions – 2015 Report to Parliament in June 2015, including the statement that “Significant action is required in the new Parliament in order to meet the fourth carbon budget and to stay on track to the 2050 target.

Reducing Emissions to meet targets

It is clear from the CCC paper that the challenge of the ‘energy trilemma’:
– reducing emissions
– improving security of supply
– reducing cost
needs to be addressed by stopping the use of coal to generate electricity and to replace this capacity with lowest carbon, low (whole life) cost sources to meet the emission commitments. This would also improve the security of supply and reduce costs (as long as fossil fuel subsidies were removed to create a level playing field.

share-uk-power-mix carbon brief july 2015 (2)(from Carbon Brief July 2015 based on Decc data)

Reducing fuel poverty, reducing air pollution, encouraging UK business and acknowledging local wishes.

Reducing Fuel Poverty and air pollution are not aims that are clear in government papers, but are relevant to forming policies.

Local wishes are interpreted as financial encouragement to permit fracking, and requiring local plans to be approved for onshore community wind.  For instance,  Community Energy (Pre election) supported communities generating their own energy. Post election it is becoming much more onerous, requiring participation in Neighbourhood Planning Forums for new onshore wind turbines. (Giving local people the final say over onshore wind farms)

See 1010 for campaign to allow Community energy to be sold and used locally.

Carbon Brief reported on renewables targets in June 2015 concluding that the UK was likely to miss the target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive of 15% of power from renewables by 2020. This is despite the record of 25% of UK electricity being generated by renewables during the second Quarter of 2015.

Summary of UK Situation

The following panels show the carbon intensity of each fuel (in lowest carbon order) together with the percentage used for UK fuel in 2013 (from Ecotricity data) and the expected cost per MWh for renewable technologies from the 2015 CCC report page53 table 1.1. This May 2015 Government paper lists their Low Carbon activities, but does not summarise spend v progress towards low carbon.

The bulk of UK spend (from taxes and energy customers) goes on Nuclear. Whilst very low carbon there are concerns about the safety of Nuclear and very long lead times to acquire more capacity.

The government is supporting  gas from onshore fracking and undersea gasification (much higher carbon though less than coal), tidal power (also very low carbon) and Biofuels with carbon capture and storage also supported with the intention of minimising emissions (though not necessarily lowering emissions if Biofuels from non sustainable sources are used).

Solar and Wind are not visibly being encouraged by this government. Although they receive Feed-In-Tariffs (“You can get payments from your energy supplier if you generate your own electricity, eg with solar panels or a wind turbine“) and Renewable Obligations  (“The RO requires licensed UK electricity suppliers to source a specified proportion of the electricity they provide to customers from eligible renewable sources“) support these tend to be reduced as legislation is introduced.

Nuclear from Word InsertNUCLEAR [24.1% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 5 g/CO2 kWh]

The DECC Budget according to Carbon Brief May 2015:
out of the £3.4bn annual budget for DECC, £2.2bn is spent on decommissioning Nuclear (including Military, with another £41m for Nuclear Security).

See Nuclear – A Toxic Time Capsule? for lists of ways in which nuclear is subsidised, and the Keep FITs campaign that assessed the cost per bill payer per year of Nuclear to be £14 more, compared to £1 for Solar.

To paraphrase the government’s reason to favour Nuclear, it is because it believes that solar and wind are intermittent and that Nuclear is the only low carbon source of electricity that can be relied on as a baseload. However, as Amory B Lovins Four Nuclear Myths of Oct 2009 states “in the U.S. during 2003–07, coal capacity was shut down an average of 12.3% of the time (4.2% without warning); nuclear, 10.6% (2.5%); gas-fired, 11.8% (2.8%). Worldwide through 2008, nuclear units were unexpectedly unable to produce 6.4% of their energy output. This inherent intermittency of nuclear and fossil-fueled power plants requires many different plants to back each other up through the grid.” In fact solar minimum generation is completely reliable, and if a solar panel fails it has little effect. But when a large Nuclear power station is out of action, for whatever reason, the UK’s very economy could be in danger.

The Government plans in April 2016 were to proceed with the Hinkley Point C plant by 2025, providing 7% of UK electricity,  notes industry “proposals to develop 18 gigawatts of new nuclear power in the UK at six sites – Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Bradwell, Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury. This pipeline could deliver around a third of the electricity we will need in the 2030s; reduce our carbon emissions by more than 40 million tonnes”; and invest “at least £250m in nuclear research and development” including Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

But following final approval by EDF to go ahead with providing Hinkley Point C on 28th July 2016 the UK Government decided to review the scheme. Widespread objections to the scheme, according to Carbon Brief of 29th July included:

  • delays in all the other EPR technology models
  • concerns about EDF stability
  • high cost to bill payers
  • concerns about the Chinese government

 The EU Commissioners approved the scheme in March 2016 for Hinkley C and Sizewell C, following on from an appeal by the Austrian Government, challenging the European Commission’s decision to allow State Aid to the Hinkley Nuclear power station (the Telegraph  July 2015) relating to subsidies from UK bill payers for 35yrs and a UK Government multi-billion pound loan guarantee. The ruling also approved a Nuclear reactor at Bradwell using China General Nuclear’s Hualong One design.

In parallel the UK Government is considering small nuclear plants according to The Telegraph in Nov 2015. Treasury ministers announced a £250m competition “Developers say small reactors would be much cheaper and quicker to build than conventional nuclear power plants…… would also be more flexible in their generation.”

The planned site at Moorside, at the Sellafield decommissioning plant has run into opposition from residents who want the connection with the grid underground “20 miles of buried lines would cost about £450m more than using pylons” according to the Guardian in April 2016.

Dam schematic

HYDRO [1.6% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 5 g/CO2 kWh]

This use the natural power of rain and water to generate electricity, traditionally with water wheels, but also with large or small dams. For instance, LoCo2 energy is a major producer of Hydro power with 8 sites.

According to Deccs Special feature – Renewable energy in 2014 “Generation from hydro, a record, in 2014, increased by 1,183 GWh (25%) on 2013, due to higher rain fall (in the main hydro catchment areas).

Wind is increasingly becoming a major provider of UK power.

Click here for the 10:10 real time wind dial to see how much wind power is currently being generated.

  Offshore windOFFSHORE WIND
[5% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 5.6 g/CO2 kWh CCC report £114-120/MWh.]

Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Decc talked to the Renewables UK Offshore Wind Conference June 2015. “Outside the UK, over 15GW of offshore wind projects are likely to be operating in Europe by 2020. This represents a huge commercial opportunity on our doorstep. £40bn in component supply and construction contracts will be made available through competitive tender procedures. My Department and I are determined to back you.”

But in November 2015 she stated: “we will not support offshore wind at any cost. …………..The technology needs to move quickly to cost-competitiveness. If that happens we could support up to 10GW of new offshore wind projects in the 2020s.”

But Energy Post interprets the figures as a severe set back: “We have 5GW already, we have 4GW already consented with much of it under construction, and the ambition is to deliver 10GW by 2020 – that’s just 1GW more than is already committed. In other words, the UK’s offshore wind sector faces a dramatic curtailment once the current round of construction is over and done with.”

2015 CCC report costs for offshore wind appear to be falling in line with industry goals and could continue to fall through the 2020s under a supportive policy environment.This would enable offshore wind to provide an additional option for low-carbon generation at costs that are comparable to those of nuclear and onshore wind. That would be a major step towards meeting the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act given the importance of providing low-cost, low-carbon electricity and the large potential offshore wind resource (i.e. over 400 TWh per year, more thantotal UK electricity demand in 2014).

Renewable UK. has published a report asking the UK Government to support Off Shore Wind. “offshore wind is set to be cost competitive with new nuclear by the mid 2020s.



GreenMountainWindFarm_Fluvanna_2004  ONSHORE WIND
[6.5% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 8.5 g/CO2 kWh. 2015 CCC Report £80/MWh]

Following the June 2015  announcement from Decc that the UK will cease subsidies for On Shore Wind a year early. Secretary of state, Amber Rudd said that “Onshore wind is an important part of our energy mix and we now have enough subsidised projects in the pipeline to meet our renewable energy commitments”.

And in her statement of November 2015 she stated “we have enough onshore wind in the pipeline to meet our 2020 expectations. That is why we set out in our manifesto that we would end any new public subsidy for onshore wind farms.”

Renewable UK reports from the Committee for Climate Change that On Shore Wind “is one of the most cost-effective forms of clean energy at £80/MWh. Highlighting that cost-effectiveness, the CCC notes that this means that onshore wind should be considered subsidy free from around 2020. The CCC calls for the Government to be “transparent over the cost to consumers if low-cost options like onshore wind are constrained”.

2015 CCC report: “we recommend that subsidy is judged against the full cost of high-carbon alternatives and that the Government is transparent over the cost to consumers if low-cost options like onshore wind are constrained.

As well as curtailing onshore subsidies for wind the conditions to obtain permission for a new wind turbine have become much more onerous. Giving local people the final say over onshore wind farms includes:

Today’s planning rules mean that when considering a planning application for wind turbines in their area, councils should only grant permission if:
• the site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy as part of a Local or Neighbourhood Plan; and
• following consultation, the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore has their backing.



From: adbioresources.org
From: adbioresources.org


[4.9% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission:   varies from  11 g/CO2 kWh for anaerobic digestion to 122g/CO2 for plant biomass. 2015 CCC report £100/MWh]

In Jan 2016 the EU opened an investigation on whether the subsidy for Drax to use Biofuel instead of Coal was allowable under EU State Aid.

The UK aid consists of an offer of a “strike price” for the electricity generated. If the average wholesale price falls below that level, the Drax power plant operator would receive an additional payment.

The government strike price for biomass conversion projects is £105 per megawatt-hour, compared with a current day-ahead power market price of £37 per MWh.

One key area for investigation by the Commission will be whether the strike price means Drax will be overly compensated.

Corporate Watch considers that the Green Investment Bank investment, particularly to Drax Biofuel, is bad for carbon reduction. “Over 91%, it turns out, are attributed to a £100 million loan to Drax,[1] which is in the process of converting the first of three units from coal to biomass. The other three units will continue to run on coal. The Green Investment Banks claims in their Annual Report: “Converting coal to sustainable biomass provides substantial GHG emissions savings by displacing the dirtiest fuel with biomass.” They ought to know better…….. Drax thus has to rely on wood from whole-trees from boreal or temperate forests and tree plantations….. when forests are clearcut (i.e. uniformly cutting all the trees in an area) and converted to monoculture tree plantations and carbon rich soils are damaged or destroyed, the carbon released will stay in the atmosphere indefinitely….a BBC investigation, revealed that some of the pellets produced by Drax’s main US supplier have come from clearcut ancient swamp forests in the southern US…..this particular loan was far from an accident or aberration. Indeed, they are currently looking at a proposal to fund one of Scotland’s most controversial proposed biomass power stations in Grangemouth, which would see another 1.5 million tonnes of imported wood burned every year in an already heavily polluted town, where feelings against the plans run high. The company behind this proposal is Forth Energy, half owned by SSEwhose Chair, Lord Smith of Kelvin, happens to also be the GIB’s Chairman.

2015 CCC report is concerned that “For biomass to offer genuine emissions savings, the feedstock mustcome from sustainable sources.” and will monitor progress on this for their next report.

newsimg_tidal lagoon swansea bay

[0% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 25 g/CO2 kWh]

Trillion explains the potential of Tidal Energy. “There are two main types of tidal: tidal stream and tidal range. Tidal stream uses wind-type turbines located in the water column. Energy is created directly from the tidal stream currents. Tidal range uses offshore barrage or lagoon constructions to harness the potential energy of water during high tides. Stored water is released in controlled fashion, rotating turbines and generating energy between tides.” and:

 “…some experts argue tidal power has the potential to deliver 75 per cent of the UK’s current electricity needs.  The Government estimates the UK’s total tidal range resource at between 25 and 30GW, enough to supply around 12 per cent of current UK electricity demand.”

An initial project in the Swansea Bay had been due to be on-stream by March 2017, but the Government commissioned a review in 2016 to review the potential and the cost effectiveness. The review by Charles Hendry published on 12th Jan 2017 recommended that the Swansea Tidal Lagoon project  go ahead and included: “The potential impact on consumer bills of large scale tidal lagoons “appears attractive, particularly when compared to nuclear projects” in the long term..”

  •  The project is “The world’s first, man-made, energy-generating lagoon, with a 320MW installed capacity and 14 hours of reliable generation every day
  • Clean, renewable and predictable power for over 155,000 homes (equivalent to 90% of Swansea Bay’s annual domestic electricity use) for 120 years
  • Large-scale tidal power connected to the National Grid in 2018, as other power stations are closed down
  • An important contribution towards national carbon emission reduction targets – over 236,000 tonnes of COsaved each year 
  • An opportunity to develop a world-leading tidal range industry in the UK 
  • Significant employment and value creation in Wales
  • Community and tourism opportunities in sports, recreation, education, arts and culture
  • Conservation, restocking and biodiversity programmes
  • Coastal flood protection

In Dec 2015 Wales Online also reported on the deployment of a DeltaStream device in Pembrokeshire that will demonstrate tidal grid-connected power. 

Wave energyBusinesses can now bid for a share of £7 million from Wave Energy Scotland (WES) as part of its long-term programme of support for commercialisation of the wave energy sector. ”



 Blackfriarsf5064b1c-77cb-4594-b4b8-43074a20f613-460x276SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC

[8.5% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 54 g/CO2 kWh. 2015 CCC report £80/MWh]

Prior to the 2015 election Decc policy was:  Decc Solar intentionsGreg Barker 1st July 2014

“it makes sense to generate electricity close to where it’s needed. That avoids power losses in transmission. It displaces expensive electricity purchased at retail process. It avoids the need for expensive and, often unsightly, infrastructure. It provides electricity at a guaranteed price, something ever more important as international oil and gas prices look to rise. Rather than add to the list of problems for a sometimes-overloaded grid, it can actually reduce the pressure on the distributed network operator……..

On schools, we – together with the BPVA and Friends of the Earth – will launch a new campaign later this year to encourage students parents, teachers and Governors to install solar on school roofs………

And for commercial and industrial roofs, I will also be hosting a roundtable on 9 September to bring together landlords, estate agents, lawyers, large retailers and solar developers to agree practical steps to lift barriers which prevent deployment of solar because of the division between landlords and tenants….

I can also confirm that we are examining whether there are inexpensive ways to allow the transfer of solar panels between buildings when the user moves, without losing the Government subsidy.”

The UK Solar PV Strategy  was published in Oct 2013

  • Support for solar PV should allow cost-effective projects to proceed and to make a cost-effective contribution to UK carbon emission objectives in the context of overall energy goals – ensuring that solar PV has a role alongside other energy generation technologies in delivering carbon reductions, energy security and affordability for consumers.
  • Support for solar PV should deliver genuine carbon reductions that help meet the UK’s target of 15 per cent renewable energy from final consumption by 2020 and in supporting the decarbonisation of our economy in the longer term – ensuring that all the carbon impacts of solar PV deployment are fully understood.
  • Support for solar PV should ensure proposals are appropriately sited, give proper weight to environmental considerations such as landscape and visual impact, heritage and local amenity, and provide opportunities for local communities to influence decisions that affect them.
  • Support for solar PV should assess and respond to the impacts of deployment on: grid systems balancing; grid connectivity; and financial incentives – ensuring that we address the challenges of deploying high volumes of solar PV.

Coping with Seasonal Peaks in Solar generation

The 2015 CCC report was concerned at the seasonality of solar in the UK. High output in the summer could make other sources less economic and further research is needed as to solutions.

VAT rate for Solar Materials

The EU ruled in June 2012 that VAT on solar (and all other Energy Saving Materials) in the UK should be at standard VAT (20%) instead of 5%. And in Feb 2013 the European Commissioner took the UK to the European Court of Justice for a ruling.

In Nov 2015 the The Spending Review and Autumn statement said (under Indirect Taxes) that “The government will consult on legislation for Finance Bill 2016 to ensure the reduced rate of VAT on energy saving materials is maintained in line with EU law” (that is ceasing the 5% rate for solar PV). HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) had launched a consultation  that ended on 3rd February 2016 and the proposed rules were a complicated selection of criteria to decide which rate was applicable.

According to Energy Live News 17 Conservative MPs have joined Labour in March 2016 to appeal for the removal of this reduced rate to be stopped.


gas rig NATURAL GAS –

[45.3% of UK generation in 2016. Lifecycle Emission: 369 g/CO2 kWh]


As well as the current gas sources below the UK Government intends to develop production of ‘fracked’ gas, against vigorous opposition.  In November 2015 the policy regarding Gas was stated as: “We currently import around half of our gas needs, but by 2030 that could be as high as 75%. That’s why we’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports.

In July 2015, The Telegraph reported on a a change in policy to allow fracking in Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

 UK_gas_supply_sources_2013UK Sources for Gas 2013.

Another source of gas in future could be from Underground Coal Gasification, using a technique to extract gas from coal underground, involving pumping deep underground(undersea) water and air. “Indigenous deep offshore UCG production has benefits over the conventional coal industry at the production, beneficiation, transport and electricity generation phases.” These include “UCG derived syngas is ideally suited to pre-combustion removal of CO2. When combined with carbon storage or utilisation technologies, the CO2 footprint for UCG is equivalent to that of conventional natural gas fired power generation.” and “Pre-combustion clean-up of syngas, including carbon capture, is well established technology and has significant cost advantages over flue gas clean-up and post-combustion capture.

Cluff Natural Resources has been granted 8 licences by the Coal Authority: Kincardine, Point of Ayr, Loughor Estuary, LargoBay, North Cumbria, Durham North, Durham South, Maryport.

Opencast mine COAL [3.6% of UK power in 2016 and 837 Lifecycle Emission g/CO2 kWh] But note that Carbon Brief reported in April 2016 that, for some April days solar generated more electricity than coal.

The frightening amount of CO2 emissions per kWh generated, together with the high proportion of UK power from coal illustrates why we need to ‘keep it in the ground’. Amber Rudd Minister of State for DECC announced on 18th Nov 2015 that the Government will consult to close the use of coal: “Our consultation will set out proposals to close coal by 2025 – and restrict its use from 2023……… But let me be clear, we’ll only proceed if we’re confident that the shift to new gas can be achieved within these timescales.”

 The Policy Exchange in Dec 2015 analysed the tensions between the need to cease using coal and continuity of UK supply.

Projected Costs of Coal are in $ per tonne, so no information is available to compare the upfront cost per kWh of generating electricity from coal.

Coal phase-out

Carbon Brief reported on 18th Nov 2015: Speaking in London on Wednesday, Rudd said that the government will launch a consultation in the spring on when to close all coal-fired power stations in the UK that are not able to capture and store their emissions.”

However, Carbon Brief also revealed that: “In 2014, the department released a scenario where coal falls to 1% of the UK’s energy supply by 2025, similar to the actual target released today.” And Carbon Brief tracks UK Coal Power Stations, noting that the closure rate is faster than predicted. This is due to the cost of maintaining ageing equipment, air pollution rules and low oil prices.

Sandbag also tracks the UK Coal Power stations, and which ones have closure dates. 

And at the coal face Peabody, the world’s largest coal producer filed for bankruptcy in Apr 2016.

Whereas there were plans to convert some coal fired stations to use carbon capture and storage on 25th Nov, following the Spending Review the Government announced that they would cancel the £1bn competition for carbon capture and storage. The Carbon Capture and Storage Association wrote CCS_Stakeholders_Letter_January_2016 – Copy to David Cameron in Jan 2016 including: “Since the decision was taken there has been a complete lack of consistent explanation for this significant change in policy, which is very damaging to the credibility of UK energy policy and your government’s commitments on climate change.”

A summary of the way forward comes from the 2015 CCC report.
Deep decarbonisation of the power sector by 2030 is central to emissions reduction across the economy and meeting the UK’s legislated commitments at lowest cost, whilst ensuring that security of supply is maintained. This reflects that:
• Power is a major source of emissions (around one quarter of total UK emissions).
• Low-carbon technologies are available for power generation which are or are likely to become cost effective (i.e. cheaper than fossil fuel generation facing a rising carbon price).
• In the period to 2030 there will be significant capital stock turnover in the UK’s power system as assets retire, creating an opportunity to replace this with low-carbon capacity.
• Low-carbon power can be used as a route to decarbonisation in other sectors (buildings,
transport and industry)”