The Climate Change Act 2008 established a target for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. BEIS reported that as of 2015, the energy supply sector was responsible for 29% of total GHG emissions in the UK.
While fossil fuels still represent a significant proportion of the UK energy mix, BEIS provisionally reported that as of 2016, the energy supply sector has reduced overall GHG emissions by approximately 54% since 1990 and was the largest contributor to the decrease in carbon dioxide emissions between 2015 and 2016. This is largely a result of switching fuels from coal to gas, with coal-fired power generation having decreased by 63% between 1990 and 2015. Renewable generation occupying a larger share of the market has also played a large role in GHG emission reductions, with renewable sources accounting for 23% of UK’s electricity supply mix in 2015.
The current framework in place to tackle carbon emissions at European level includes the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) which puts a steadily reducing cap on carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial emitters and the power sector. As the EU ETS is a ‘cap and trade’ system, it has created a market price for carbon allowances which is reflected in the cost of electricity. Find out more about the EU Emissions Trading System on the European Commission’s website.
Other air emissions
The main emissions to air from power stations that give cause for concern are sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and dust (particulate matter, or PM2.5). All three are relevant to coal-fired stations, but NOx is the most significant emission from gas-fired stations. Power station emissions have been subject to European legislation since 1988. A fuel switch from coal to gas caused significant reductions in SO2 in the 1990s.
More recently, the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) (2001/80/EC) has been an effective driver in the reduction of SO2 emissions through the installation of Flue Gas Desulphurisation at coal-fired stations. Overall, SO2 emissions reduced by approximately 92% between 2000 and 2015.
From January 2016, the LCPD was replaced by the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU), which is expected to drive a step change in the reduction of NOx emissions.
As it stands, NOx emissions have decreased by 65% between 2000 and 2015. According to the Environment Agency, if all coal-fired plants are closed and replaced with Combined Cycle Gas Turbines by 2025, the expected NOx emissions will be reduced by some further 55% on 2015 levels.