UK’s power system is ‘decarbonising faster than any other country’

British power stations are producing 100 million tonnes less carbon dioxide (CO2) per year than they were 10 years ago, renewable energy company Drax has reported. The amount of carbon being saved is equivalent to flying the entire population of the UK to Beijing and back.

On 30 June, carbon emissions from electricity fell to 97g per kW, meeting the Committee on Climate Change’s 2030 target of 100g per kWh. On the same day, more than half of the UK’s electricity was powered by renewable sources - 39% from wind, 9% from solar, 8% from biomass and 1% from hydro.

Drax, which operates a biomass and coal-fired power plant in England, reported a 52% reduction in its carbon emissions in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year. The power station in North Yorkshire is the largest decarbonisation project in Europe, with 94% of the power produced being renewable.

“Britain’s power system is decarbonising at a faster rate than any other country in the world,” said Imperial College London’s Dr Iain Staffell, who worked independently to analyse Drax’s Electric Insights data. “We have spent more than half the summer without a single coal power station turned on, and renewables are breaking new records all the time.

“It’s fantastic progress, but we still have a long way to go to meet our net zero carbon targets. To make a real difference to the climate crisis, we must waste no time in using this low-carbon electricity to clean up our transport and buildings.”

Since converting two-thirds of its power station to use biomass rather than coal as fuel, Drax Power Station is producing enough renewable electricity to power four million households.

But it’s not stopping there. “Having converted another generating unit at Drax Power Station to use biomass instead of coal last year, we’re now producing more renewable power at the times it is needed the most - but we’d like to go further,” said Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner.

“If we can scale up our successful bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, Drax could become the world’s first negative emissions power station in the mid-2020s, helping to achieve the government’s net zero by 2050 carbon target.”

Earlier this year, the first carbon dioxide was captured using C-Capture technology at Drax Power Station as part of its BioEnergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) project. In June, it secured funding for a fuel cell carbon capture study to explore using US-based company FuelCell Energy’s molten carbon fuel cell to generate electricity while capturing CO2 from flue gases produced during the combustion of biomass. The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering have estimated that BECCS could enable the UK to capture 50 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050.

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