WWF UK Blog  

Don’t assume it’s curtains for electricity from coal


Burning coal is the biggest threat to tackling climate change. Our old coal power stations, relics from the 1960s and 70s, have served us well but their time is up. The next Government must take action to ensure they close by 2025 at the latest.

Here’s a startling statistic for you. Keeping just one coal fired power station generating full time in 2030 would gobble up over 50% of target emissions from the entire electricity sector. How much of our demand would this solitary coal plant meet? A paltry 3%.

The fact is that coal power stations emit more than twice the carbon dioxide than is emitted from burning gas, the next most polluting source of electricity. Other sources of electricity like wind turbines have no direct emissions at all.

Carbon intensity graph © WWF-UKCarbon intensity graph © WWF-UK

Meeting our climate change targets means cutting emissions from the electricity sector to one tenth of today’s levels over the next 15 years. Yet nine of the UK’s coal power stations were recently named in a league table of the 30 dirtiest power stations in Europe. Replacing these dirty old coal plants should be a no brainer.

But don’t we need coal to keep our electricity supply secure?

For now we do but if coal plants shut by 2025 there will be plenty of time to build cleaner, more efficient alternatives. Our coal power stations are already working on borrowed time and extending their lives will prolong not solve security of supply concerns.

Our Government recognises that we cannot continue to burn coal unabated and stay on track to tackle climate change. In fact David Cameron announced, at a September 2014 global summit on climate change, his intention to phase out existing coal power stations by 2025-2030.

Official government forecasts (PDF) assume that all our old coal fired power stations will close by the mid-2020s. But a WWF funded report by Imperial College London, released today, suggests that there is a serious risk that coal won’t close without Government action.

Imperial College’s report looked at how much electricity we’d get from coal in various plausible future scenarios. In every case there is some old coal still running in 2030.  In the worst case, emissions from coal power stations alone are twice the UK carbon targets in 2030 but meet less than one sixth of our electricity needs. In no scenario do power sector emissions target come close to being met.

Sector emmissions graph © WWF-UKSector emmissions graph © WWF-UK

What can we take away from this?

Closing old coal plants is essential. At the moment, Government policy is helping coal plants stay open rather than pushing them to close. This is unacceptable.  Clarity that coal plants must close by 2025 must be a priority for the next Government.

What are your thoughts on coal consumption? Leave us a comment.

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