UK coal power to be phased out within 10 years: what will the future hold?
What has been proposed?
On the 18th November 2015 the UK government announced their plans to close all coal fired power stations by 2025 and restrict their use by 2023 1. The government’s consultations are due to commence this spring and will set out the proposals on when to close all coal fired power stations. The government are planning to phase out coal power for our future energy security and to produce cheaper energy. Based on data from the Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2015, coal was used for 30% of all electricity generation in 2014 2. Figures for 2015 have not yet been published.
Figure 1: UK Electricity Generation 2014 2
This plan is a result of the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy in which she stated that:
“It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations.
Let me be clear: this is not the future. We need to build a new energy infrastructure, fit for the 21st century 3.”
What will coal power be replaced by?
This could be a positive step for the future of our climate and for lower fuel prices. Coal is considered to produce the highest amount of carbon emissions compared to other forms of electricity generation 4. However, what coal power is replaced by will determine how much of a positive step this will be. The main alternatives proposed by the government at the moment appear to be gas, nuclear and potentially off shore wind power.
The move to shut coal power stations by 2025 will encourage the use of gas power. Amber Rudd has stated that:
“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.
There are also economic benefits in building a new industry for the country and for communities.
Our North Sea history means the UK is a home to world class oil and gas expertise, in Aberdeen and around the UK – we should build on that base so that our shale potential can be exploited safely 3.”
According to Amber Rudd, the gas used to heat our homes in the UK is allegedly among the cheapest and most secure compared to the rest of Europe 3.
The speech also stated that new nuclear power is a long term solution and it is central to our energy secure future. The plans have been predicted to provide up to 30% of low carbon energy through the 2030s and to create 30,000 new jobs 3. One major nuclear project that has been supported by the government is Hinckley Point C and it has been stated that it will be a significant step towards a low carbon future 5. However, the project is currently facing funding difficulties so it will be interesting to see if this will be reflected in the government’s proposal 6.
Off shore wind
Amber Rudd stated that there should be support for the growth of the offshore wind industry, however the industry is expensive and the government will not support the energy source at any cost. She goes on to state that support will be strictly conditional on the accelerating cost reductions and that the technology needs to move quickly to cost-competitiveness3. It seems that only if the cost of off shore wind comes down would it be an option for the government to replace coal power.
What does this mean?
The plans stated in the speech have provoked mixed reactions.
There have been positive reactions as the UK will be the first G20 country to turn away from coal power and will lead the way for the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is particularly symbolic as the country where the Industrial Revolution began would no longer be using coal power 7.
However, despite the fact that gas power is less polluting than coal, and emits almost half the amount of carbon dioxide per megawatt of power generated as coal plants 8, gas is still a carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuel. Greenpeace has suggested that if ministers are serious about putting customers first they should be replacing coal with clean energy, such as wind and solar power 9.
The decision to phase out coal power seems to be a step in right direction to lower carbon emissions. However, what coal power is replaced by will determine how much of a positive step that will be.
- Department of Energy & Climate Change and The Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, 2015, Government announces plans to close coal power stations by 2025. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-announces-plans-to-close-coal-power-stations-by-2025
- Department of Energy & Climate Change, 2015, Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2015. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/450302/DUKES_2015.pdf
- Department of Energy & Climate Change and The Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, 2015, Amber Rudd’s speech on a new direction for UK energy policy. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amber-rudds-speech-on-a-new-direction-for-uk-energy-policy
- Energy UK, Coal Generation. Available online at: http://www.energy-uk.org.uk/energy-industry/coal-generation.html (Accessed 10th February 2016)
- Department of Energy & Climate Change, 2016, 5 reasons why we are backing Hinkley Point. Available online at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/5-reasons-why-we-are-backing-hinkley-point-c
- BBC News, 2016, EDF ‘confident’ Hinkley Point nuclear power station will go ahead. Available online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35790824
- Greenpeace, 2015, End of an Era: Why every European country needs a coal phase-out plan. Available online at: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/sites/files/gpuk/Greenpeace-EU-State-of-Coal-PDF.pdf
- Reuters, 2015, UK aims to close coal-fired power plants by 2025. Available online at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-energy-policy-idUKKCN0T703X20151118
- Greenpeace, 2015, Coal phase-out welcome but clean energy plan needed. Available online at: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/media/press-releases/coal-phase-out-welcome-clean-energy-plan-needed-20151006