Coal and current policy could be undermining the UK's emissions targets


Eggborough Power Station at Sunset Christine Matthews [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

Existing coal-fired power stations could lead to the UK missing targets for carbon emissions, suggests a new report.

The report, Could retaining old coal lead to a policy own goal?, is being presented today to the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. The findings are not optimistic if coal continues to be used in the UK. Rob Gross, Policy Director for the Energy Futures Lab and one of the report’s authors said “We can’t assume coal will just disappear, if the government wants to meet its targets, action and legislation is needed”.

The report from Imperial’s Centre for Energy Policy and Technology (ICEPT) has looked at coal as part of the UK’s future energy mix. The team reviewed a range of factors that will affect the decisions coal-fired power station operators will need to make and modelled various scenarios for these facilities in the 2020s.This work involved in-depth modelling of how much coal could be part of the energy mix, and the impact on power sector carbon emissions, in 2030. The report’s main finding was that, contrary to government assumptions, many old coal power stations could still be operating then.

Continued use of coal has the potential to significantly undermine the carbon reduction goals recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The CCC recommends that emissions from the power sector are reduced to between 50 and 100 grams of carbon for every kilowatt hour (g/kWh) produced in 2030. The report’s various scenarios find emissions could be as high as 238 g/kWh.  

The report outlines three recommendations to mitigate these risks, including regulation, subsidies and carbon pricing. The group’s first suggestion is to extend regulation that applies to new-build power stations to cover existing coal-fired stations that decide to remain open after 2023 by complying with the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive.

Alongside this the report recommends making it clear what subsidies there will be to drive growth in low-carbon generation after 2020. The government has announced they will use Contracts for Difference that guarantee a minimum price per unit to generators but have not clarified the details. The final recommendation is that the next government provide a clear trajectory for UK carbon prices in the 2020s and continue to support a high carbon price by strengthening the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to make ‘dirtier’ fuel generation financially unviable.

You can download the full report, Could retaining old coal lead to a policy own goal?(PDF) from the ICEPT website.

The image that accompanies this article is Eggborough Power Station at Sunset by Christine Matthews licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Neasan O'Neill

Neasan O'Neill
Faculty of Engineering

Click to expand or contract

Contact details

Show all stories by this author


See more tags

Leave a comment

Your comment may be published, displaying your name as you provide it, unless you request otherwise. Your contact details will never be published.