Energy companies are committed to the sustainability agenda. They want to make a positive contribution to our society, economy and environment, and a range of initiatives are underway to reduce the sector's environmental impact.
The energy industry is an important contributor to our economy and society. The country depends on energy and between 2008 and 2010, £17 billion was invested in the UK economy and 45,000 new jobs were created in the energy sector. Find out more about the energy sector's contribution to society.
Energy companies are committed to cutting their carbon emissions and have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. These commitments will help to meet the UK's climate change targets, but a large amount of investment in new, low carbon power stations will also be needed. Emissions from the electricity sector have fallen by 16% since 1990 and are expected to continue to fall. By 2020, zero carbon technologies (renewables and nuclear) are expected to produce 40% of our electricity.
The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) puts a cap on the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from power stations and other industry and creates a market and price for carbon allowances. Find out more about the EU Emissions Trading Scheme at the Environment Agency's website.
The Government gives extra financial support, where appropriate, to low carbon technologies. Renewable electricity, for example, is supported through the Renewables Obligation, which rewards renewable output over the lifetime of a project. Find out more about the Renewables Obligation at the Department of Energy and Climate Change website..
Other potential environmental impacts from power generation, such as emissions to air or water, are carefully regulated. EU law places strict limits on emissions from power stations. They must get a permit from the national environmental regulator in order to run. If an operator breaks the conditions in their environmental permit, they can be taken to court or have their permit cancelled.
Electricity producers have taken steps to cut power station emissions that affect air quality. Sulphur dioxide emissions from power stations have fallen by 87% since 1990. This is mainly as a result of many coal-fired power stations fitting Flue Gas Desulphurisation equipment at a cost of around £2 billion. Investment in new technology has also caused power station emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulates to fall.
Power stations use the heat they produce in the electricity generation process efficiently. In certain circumstances, heat produced at power stations can be used for other applications, such as in industrial processes or for heating homes and businesses. Under the right conditions, producing useable heat and electricity at the same time, known as Combined Heat and Power, can be more efficient than generating them separately. There are currently over 1,400 CHP schemes in the UK with a total electricity generating capacity of nearly 5.5 gigawatts.