Within one year (from 2015 to 2016), the UK’s CO2 emissions have fallen by 6 %. This has saved 400 kg of CO2 per inhabitant. According to Grant Wilson, University of Sheffield, UK, and Iain Staffell, Imperial College London, UK, the country has reduced its share of coal in power generation more than all other countries in Europe together. This was achieved by fuel switching from coal to natural gas generation.
According to the researchers, four factors were important for this rapid change:
- The gas-fired power plants were already built and had idle capacity.
- The electricity infrastructure could cope with the change.
- The political will was there.
- The switch was incentivized through a stable and strong carbon price.
As early as 2013, the British government introduced the so-called “Carbon Price Support” (CPS), which set the price per tonne of CO2 to a minimum set by them. In 2017, this was 18 EUR per tonne CO2; more than three times higher than in the rest of the EU. However, it allowed to produce electricity by gas at the same or lower price than by coal since 2016. The price of electricity rose by 5 % in 2016 which the researchers think is a very small increase for a 25 % reduction in electricity sector emissions in just one year.
The switch from coal to gas could also work in other countries, according to the researchers. However, the switch to gas is not a permanent solution, but only an intermediate step on the way to a power production without fossil fuels. But it is an important step to reduce emissions quickly and at minimal cost. According to the scientists, a shift from coal to gas could save around 1 Gt CO2 per year worldwide. This is equivalent to 3 % of the global CO2 emissions.
- Rapid fuel switching from coal to natural gas through effective carbon pricing,
I. A. Grant Wilson, Iain Staffell
Nature Energy 2018.