Energy use and conservation in the United Kingdom has been receiving increased attention over recent years. Key factors behind this are the UK Government's commitment to reducing carbon emissions, the projected 'energy gap' in electricity generation, and the increasing reliance on imports to meet national energy needs.
Based on a recommendation by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the Government has also committed to cutting emissions by 20% by 2010, 60% by 2050, and 80% by 2100, compared to 1990 levels. These reductions were thought in 2000 to be those required to stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide at 550 ppm (compared to current levels of 380ppm), although latest scientific opinion is that stabilisation at this level is likely to be insufficient to avoid dangerous climate change. Research shows that the world is heading for much higher than the 650ppm level.
The achievement of the first of these targets should have been made considerably easier due to an inadvertent reduction in emissions caused by the (cost driven) displacement of coal by natural gas in electricity generation. Compared to coal, gas produces around 30% less when burnt. Filling the electricity generation gap (see below) while cutting emission levels presents a significant challenge. emissions from electricity generation have already risen 15% since 1997, though were still 15.9% lower than 1990 levels.
It is currently expected that the reduction by 2010 will actually be in the 15-18% range, although the 20% target remains.
A report by the University College London Environment Institute (commissioned by Channel 4 for heavily criticised Dispatches Great Global Warming Swindle programme) suggested that current government policies would achieve a reduction in greenhouse gasses of between 12 and 17% by 2020, compared to an implied target of up to 30%. The report states that the over-riding block to achieving 30% is that nearly all the government's targets are voluntary.
|(Domestic target)**||(UK)||(Kyoto target)***|
|*Change percentages are the figures originally published. All other figures are revised annually as improvements are made to the calculation methods, so the percentages shown do not necessarily align with the rest of the data.|
**Domestic target is based on CO2 only. Baseline 592.1
***Kyoto target is based on all greenhouse gases. Baseline is 775.2. Kyoto total differs from the sum of the columns due to differences in definitions used, and the inclusion of emissions from UK Overseas Territories.
Note: Figures shown do not include any adjustment for the effect of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
Source: DEFRA, published 2007-01-31
During 2004, the total energy consumed in the UK was the equivalent to 161.1 million tonnes of oil (an increase of 9.37% compared to the equivalent of 147.3 million tonnes of oil used in 1990). This represented 67.6% of the total energy used; the other 32.4% was lost in converting or transmitting the energy, or was used by the energy industries themselves before it reached the consumers.
Final energy consumption was used by consumers in the following proportions:
Due to the decline in North Sea production, and the costs of mining and using coal cleanly, unless action is taken to reduce demand, it is expected that the UK will become a major importer of oil and gas by 2015. After becoming a net exporter of gas in 1997, the UK became a net importer again in 2004.
The UK started to develop a nuclear generating capacity in the 1950s, with Calder Hall being connected to the grid on 27 August 1956. Though the production of weapons-grade plutonium was the main reason behind this particular power station, other civil stations followed, and 26% of the nation's electricity was generated from nuclear power at its peak in 1997.
Despite the flow of North Sea oil from the mid 1970s, oil fuelled generation remained relatively small and continued to decline.
Starting in 1993, and continuing through to the 1990s, a combination of factors lead to a so-called dash for gas, during which the use of coal was scaled back in favour of gas fuelled generation. This was sparked by the privatisation of the National Coal Board, British Gas, the Central Electricity Generating Board, the introduction of laws facilitating competition within the energy markets, and the availability of cheap gas from the North Sea. In 1990 just 1.09% of all gas consumed in the country was used in electricity generation. By 2004 the figure was 30.25%.
By 2004, coal use in power stations had fallen by 43.6% (50.5 million tonnes, representing 82.4% of all coal used in 2004) compared to 1980 levels, though up slightly from its low in 1999.
By 2004, total electricity production stood at 382.7 TWh (up 23.7% compared to 309.4 TWh in 1990), generated from the following sources:
UK Government energy policy expects that the total contribution from renewables should rise to 10% by 2010. The Scottish Executive has a target of generating 17% to 18% of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2010, rising to 40% by 2020.
A report from the industry in 2005 forecast that, without action to fill the gap, there would be a 20% shortfall in electricity generation capacity by 2015. Similar concerns were raised by a report published in 2000 by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (Energy - The Changing Climate). The 2006 Energy Review attracted considerable press coverage - in particular in relation to the prospect of constructing a new generation of nuclear power stations, in order to prevent the rise in carbon dioxide emissions that would arise if other conventional power stations were to be built.
Among the public, according to a November 2005 poll conducted by YouGov for Deloitte, 35% of the population expect that by 2020 the majority of electricity generation will come from renewable energy (more than double the government's target, and far beyond the 5% likely based on government energy policy as of May 2007), 23% expect that the majority will come from nuclear power, and only 18% that the majority will come from fossil fuels. 92% thought the Government should do more to explore alternative power generation technologies to reduce carbon emissions.
In 2007, proposals for the construction of two new coal fired power stations were announced, in Tilbury, Essex and in Kingsnorth, Kent. If built, they will be the first coal fired stations to be built in the UK in 20 years.
Beyond these new plants, there are a number of options that might be used to provide the new generating capacity, while minimising carbon emissions.
A March 2006 report by the British Wind Energy Association forecast that onshore windfarms should be able to supply nearly 5% of the national electricity requirements by 2010 (6 GW). The development of offshore windfarms in the UK is more recent, with only 4 operational at the end of 2005 generating only 213.80 MW, though others are in the pipeline. The installed capacity of all wind farms in the UK passed the 2 GW milestone in February 2007, but there remains considerable scope for growth. The world leader in wind power is Germany, which had installed 20.6 GW by the end of 2006.
To date, wave and tidal power have received very little money for development and consequently have not yet been exploited on a significant commercial basis due to doubts over their economic viability in the UK. Funding for the UK's first wave farm was announced by the Scottish Executive in February 2007. It will be the world's largest, with a capacity of 3 MW generated by four Pelamis machines and a cost of over 4 million pounds.
Combined heat and power plants, where 'waste' hot water from generating is used for district heating, are also a well tried technology in other parts of Europe. While it heats about 50% of all houses in Denmark, Finland, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia, it currently only plays a small role in the UK. It has, however, been rising, and had reached an installed capacity of 5,777MWe by 2004, up from around 2,500 MWe in 1990. The Government has targeted 10,000 MWe by 2010.
Other biofuels can provide a close-to-carbon-neutral energy source, if locally grown. In South America and Asia, the production of biofuels for export has in some cases resulted in significant ecological damage, including the clearing of rainforest. In 2004 biofuels provided 105.9 GW·h, 38% of it wood. This represented an increase of 500% from 1990.
In some countries the installation of solar electricity has already received considerable Government support. At the end of 2006 the UK's installed capacity of 13 MWp (Megawatts peak) represented just 0.3% of the European total of 3.4 GWp. By way of comparison, due to their plans to phase out nuclear energy there is a growing (though heavily subsidised) capacity in Germany, where 3.0 GWp had been installed by the end of 2006 (90% of all European capacity).
Along with road transport, domestic housing and energy use is currently one of the major obstacles to achieving carbon reduction targets. Housing currently accounts for just over 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the UK, and by 2010 the emissions from housing are expected to have risen 18.5% above 1990 levels. This rise is projected to continue beyond 2010. While some action is being taken on new buildings, particularly due to the 2006 changes to the Building Regulations, relatively little is being done to improve the existing housing stock.
Consumption of electricity by all domestic appliances (including cooking and lighting) rose by 123% between 1970 and 2003, and by 223% when cooking and lighting are excluded.
By 2003 the amount of fuel used by transport had risen by around 60% since 1970. While oil is the main energy source, electricity and LPG make up a small percentage. Carbon emissions from transport have almost doubled over this period. Increasing car usage, increasing engine sizes, and levels of congestion are some of the problem areas, as is increasing air travel.
The basis of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), also known as "road tax", was changed so that cars registered on or after March 1, 2001 are taxed according to the VED band that they fall into. VED bands are based on the results of a laboratory test, designed to calculate the theoretical potential emissions of the vehicle in grammes of CO2 per kilometre travelled, under ideal conditions. This has encouraged a 21% increase in the ownership of diesel cars, which produce lower CO2 emissions, but increase particulates. Company Car Tax was also revised to reflect both the list price and CO2 emissions.
A voluntary scheme to display Fuel Economy Labels on new cars was introduced during July 2005, including information on Vehicle Excise Duty and likely fuel costs The scheme brings the UK into line with European Directive 1999/94/EC, and aims to influence the behaviour of both consumers and manufacturers.
During the 1990s the Fuel Price Escalator was used to raise road fuel tax in an attempt to reduce vehicle usage and cut emissions. The mechanism was abandoned in the wake of the 2000 fuel protests. In the December 2006 Pre-Budget Report the Government announced a rise in fuel tax, and stated that fuel prices should rise each year 'at least in line with inflation'.
From 2008, a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation is being introduced, under which petrol and diesel are likely to be blended with 5% biofuels by 2010. It is anticipated that this will cut carbon emissions in the transport sector by between 2% and 3%.
The 'Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership' is pursuing the goal that new cars should produce no more than 100 g/km of CO2 by 2012. It also works in on reducing carbon emissions from commercial vehicles and in the area of alternative fuels.
As a result the issue is receiving more attention with, for example, British Waterways considering the potential for developing inland container ports. Blocks to the regular movement of containers include the lack of regular shipping services by reliable shippers of adequate size, and the additional handling costs involved.
Carbon emissions from international aviation are currently excluded from UK and international carbon reduction targets. Due to the current and projected rise in passenger numbers, the sector is expected to become a major source of emissions in the future. In 1998, 123.9 million international passengers were carried through UK airports (159.1 million in total, including domestic aviation). Due to the expansion of airport capacity envisaged by the Department for Transport's white paper The Future of Air Transport, it is forecast that 470 million passengers are likely to be carried by 2030.
Using the Department for Transport's 'best case' emission forecasts, in their August 2006 report the Environmental Audit Select Committee expect that the sector will account for 24% of the UK's emissions in 2050, compared to around 5% in 2006. In addition, due to a variety of altitude-related factors, carbon emissions from aviation are considered to be between 2 and 4 times as damaging as emissions at ground level. The Select Committee have called for a number of actions to combat this projected emissions increase, including the taxation of aviation fuel, the imposition of VAT on international air tickets, and a rise in Air Passenger Duty.
The highest profile initiative to cut carbon emissions is the European Union Emission Trading Scheme, which is operated in the UK under the 'Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Regulations'. Under Phase I of the scheme, the UK was allocated an allowance of 736 million tonnes of CO2 for the period 2005-2007 (i.e. an annual average of 245.3 million tonnes). An annual average of 246.2 million tonnes has been set for the Phase II period (2008-2012).
Other measures affecting industry include the Climate Change Levy.
Research in the area of energy is carried out by a number of public and private sector bodies:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds an energy programme spanning energy and climate change research. It aims to develop, embrace and exploit sustainable, low carbon and/or energy efficient technologies and systems to enable the UK to meet the Government’s energy and environmental targets by 2020. Its research includes renewable, conventional, nuclear and fusion electricity supply as well as energy efficiency, fuel poverty and other topics.
Since being established in 2004, the UK Energy Research Centre carries out research into demand reduction, future sources of energy, infrastructure and supply, energy systems, sustainability and materials for advanced energy systems.
The Energy Technologies Institute, expected to begin operating in 2008, is to 'accelerate the development of secure, reliable and cost-effective low-carbon energy technologies towards commercial deployment'.
In relation to buildings, the Building Research Establishment carries out some research into energy conservation.
There is currently international research being conducted into Fusion power. The ITER reactor is currently being constructed at Cadarache in France. The UK contributes towards this project through membership of the European Union. Prior to this, an experimental Fusion reactor (the Joint European Torus) had been built at Culham in Oxfordshire.