UK energy statistics show big jump in coal-fired electricity last year

  • 28 Feb 2013, 11:35
  • Christian Hunt

Drax power plant - freefotouk/flickr

Last year saw a dramatic increase in the amount of UK electricity generated using coal power, preliminary figures from The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show. Coal power overtook gas to become the biggest single source of UK electricity in 2012.

Coal produced 42.8 per cent of the UK's electricity in 2012, a rather startling rise from 2011, when it provided  just 30 per cent. In 2011, gas produced 40 per cent of UK electricity - so gas and coal have basically swapped places in just a year.

Detailed government energy statistics covering 2012 won't be published until July, but DECC has just produced a preliminary look at 2012 in UK energy statistics. The short report lays out the broad picture of how the UK generated and used energy last year.

Domestic oil and gas production is down, while a colder than average winter has pushed up energy consumption in absolute terms. Adjusted for temperatures, energy consumption fell slightly in 2012, DECC says.

Coal power produced 42.8 per cent of the UK's electricity in 2012. Gas (about 28 per cent) and nuclear (about 20 per cent) also provided big chunks. 

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Newslinks - 28th February • Gas profits, green fatigue & exit glaciers

  • 28 Feb 2013, 09:20
  • Carbon Brief staff

Centrica profits boosted by cold weather
Centrica, the UK's leading energy retailer and owner of British Gas, made a profit last year equivalent to £48 on the average dual-fuel bill, reports the Financial Times. While chief executive Sam Laidlaw defended this year's figures, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail warn the company faces a consumer backlash.
The Financial Times 

News:

Winter fuel payments in summer could save pensioners £170
More than one million pensioners living in rural areas could be given their winter fuel allowance early to take advantage of lower energy prices, suggests Baroness Verma.
The Telegraph

Shell suspends Arctic drilling for 2013
Shell is abandoning plans to drill for oil in the Arctic until safety concerns can be addressed. The company has not said when it plans to resume the campaign, reports The Financial Times. Meanwhile, Reuters report on Shell's new scenarios, released today, for how the global energy system could evolve in the 21st century.
BBC News

World cools on global warming as green fatigue sets in
The Independent reports on a recent international study which found only 49 per cent of people are concerned that climate change is a "very serious" issue.
The Independent

Industry warns financial support needed if UK marine energy is to make waves
A new report from RenewableUK says strike prices for wind and tidal projects will need to be between £280 and £320/MWh if the UK is to maintain its position as global leader.
BusinessGreen

Lord Deben: Chancellor's dash for gas would leave government's green power plans in tatters
Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, issued a stark warning on how delaying the introduction of a decarbonisation target could damage UK investment in low-carbon power. The Financial Times also has the story.
BusinessGreen

Centrica raises power cut fears
Energy supplier Centrica says it will not build any gas plants in the UK for at least four years, reinforcing fears of a looming power shortage
The Financial Times 

Commentary:

Politicians must start an 'honest conversation' about our energy bills
The Telegraph's take on shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint's angry reaction to the news that Centrica's profits are up by 11 per cent. It says Flint's arguments may prove to be "little more than political noise".
The Telegraph

Who pays for the greening of Germany?
Germany's undergoing an energy revolution - closing down nuclear and ramping up solar and wind power. But consumers are footing too much of the bill, say critics.
BBC News

Antarctica's exit glaciers: The drunk drivers of climate change
Road safety is a good model for managing risk from sea level rise, US geologist Richard Alley tells Arstechnica.
Ars Technica

Nuclear expert, Sue Ion, dramatically underestimates output of wind turbines
Climate scientist Kevin Anderson takes issue with comments made by the former technical director of British Nuclear Fuels Sue Ion about how electricity generation from nuclear and wind compare. Ion made the comments in BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific programme on Tuesday.
Comment on climate blog 

Science:

NOAA to Map Alaska's Increasingly Ice-Free Arctic Waters
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched a programme to update its nautical charts. Sea ice off Alaska's coast is rapidly diminishing under rising global temperatures, opening up brand new navigation routes.
Climate Central

Global warming could corrode shallow reefs sooner than forecast
Adding even a little carbon dioxide to the oceans can have extreme effects on shallow coral reefs, says a new study. Localised changes in acidity could see shallow reefs corroding within decades, say the scientists.
PhysOrg

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Centrica has reported a profit - It’s infographic time

  • 27 Feb 2013, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Roll out the infographics: energy company Centrica has announced its retail arm British Gas's profits are up 11 per cent. With most people blaming rising bills on energy company profits, it's not surprising Centrica is careful to point out only a small part of consumer bills goes straight to the company. But what about the rest? Here's our roundup of today's attempts to explain how it all works.

According to Centrica, British Gas's 2012 profits rose to £606 million after a cold winter pushed gas use up by 12 per cent. The  profits report isn't likely to go down well with consumers after the company put up gas and electricity tariffs by six per cent at the end of last year. 

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Slowing winds and the complications of building large windfarms

  • 27 Feb 2013, 13:20
  • Mat Hope

Credit: kcdsTM

New research questions how many wind turbines can be added to large windfarms before the power they produce starts to significantly decline. This could be a problem in the UK as the government adds more onshore and offshore wind power on the way to meeting its renewable energy  targets. If it's not possible to effectively scale wind developments up, wind's role in the future energy mix could be limited. 

The  new findings, recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, only apply to windfarms covering an area over 100 square kilometers - bigger than even the largest UK windfarm currently in operation. So the paper is most concerned with how we go about building larger windfarms in the future. 

Slowing in the wind

Wind turbines slow the wind down slightly as it turns the blades to make electricity - known as a wind shadow. As more turbines are added within a particular area, the wind shadows cross over with each other and interact much more - making the whole windfarm less efficient. 

 

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Newslinks - 27th February • German fracking, plant food & limits to wind power?

  • 27 Feb 2013, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Global warming and airflow changes 'caused US and EU heatwaves'
A new scientific paper proposes that climate change may be affecting large scale weather patterns, and leading to weather extremes: "Global warming may have caused extreme events such as a 2011 drought in the United States and a 2003 heatwave in Europe by slowing vast, wave-like weather flows in the northern hemisphere, scientists said on Tuesday."
Reuters 

News:

Study: Earthworms could make climate change worse
Better late than never - Fox News covers a study suggesting earthworms may be producing more carbon emissions.
Fox News

Australia reef shallows may cross damage threshold in 30 years
"Damaging thresholds" in ocean conditions beyond which coral reefs in shallow waters degrade will be crossed in a few decades time, say scientists in Australia - decades sooner than expected.
Reuters

Germany 'to approve fracking with conditions'
A draft German government proposal obtained by press agency AFP suggests that the country may allow fracking for unconventional oil and gas, although not in areas with water reserves or mineral springs.
AFP

Commentary:

Are there limits to large scale wind power?
A new paper suggests that very large wind farms have a slowing effect on the wind, meaning that the amount of power that turbines can produce is limited. This could mean that large wind farms produce less power than expected. Carbon Counter considers whether how the theory may turn out in practice, pointing out that we should be able to test whether the research is right fairly soon.
Carbon Counter

Tough Truths From China on CO2 and Climate
An interesting insight into environmental politics in China, via an interview with the deputy director of China's National Center for Climate Change Strategy. Environmental pollution, carbon taxes and the potential for China to decarbonise are all discussed.
Dot Earth, China Dialogue 

Science:

New tool for measuring frozen gas in ocean floor sediments
Scientists are developing tools to measure the amount of methane trapped in ocean sediments. Currently, the researchers say, there are only very broad estimates of the how much carbon is stored in sediments. The research aims to produce tools which will let scientists measure the amount more precisely.
Science Daily

How big is the "carbon fertilization effect"?
Carbon dioxide is plant food - but what kind of effect on plants will increasing the amount in the atmosphere have? This is the latest in Skeptical Science's series of science explainers.
Skeptical Science

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UK oil and gas investment is rising: What does that say about the government’s commitment to decarbonisation?

  • 26 Feb 2013, 16:00
  • Ros Donald

Source: Erik Christensen

New tax breaks for domestic oil and gas exploitation have triggered the highest rate of investment in UK projects for 30 years, according to an industry association, which has produced a map of new investments.  But does this news confirm fears expressed at a conference yesterday that the UK government isn't serious about decarbonising the economy?

Oil and Gas UK, a trade body representing the offshore industry, says investment in UK oil and gas projects rose to £11.4 billion in 2012 and are expected to grow to £13 billion this year. But the total investment could grow much more: the body says "investments totalling almost £100 billion are now in companies' plans". 

Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK's chief executive, says in a press release:

"[T]he UK continental shelf is now benefitting from record investment in new developments and in existing assets and infrastructure, the strongest for more than three decades."

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Site windfarms carefully, for peat's sake

  • 26 Feb 2013, 13:50
  • Carbon Brief Staff

New research on the pros and cons of building wind farms on peat bogs "threatens the entire rationale of the onshore wind farm industry", the Sunday Telegraph claims. But a conversation with the authors suggests the paper's implications are being overspun.

A front page story in the  Sunday Telegraph claimed "potentially devastating research" about the impact of wind farms on peatlands is only months away from publication.

The research in question looks at the consequences of building wind farms on peatland - waterlogged soil that contains large amounts of carbon. According to Sunday's article, the research shows "thousands of Britain's wind turbines will create more greenhouse gases than they save".

Carbon-rich land

Generating electricity using wind power should cut carbon emissions. But building on carbon-rich peatlands can mean draining the soil, which releases large amounts of  carbon dioxide. A team from the University of Aberdeen devised an emissions calculator to find out whether building wind farms built on peat bogs could negate their emission-cutting benefits.

The Sunday Telegraph picked up on the team's  most recent findings, which the scientists announced in a letter to Nature last year but have not yet published in full. According to the Sunday Telegraph, the new calculation shows peatland wind farms cut greenhouse gas emissions less than previously thought.

A nuanced approach

We spoke with the authors to learn more about the research. They pointed out that their paper doesn't challenge the idea that windfarms are low carbon. Dr Jo Smith, lead author on the research, tells Carbon Brief:

"The Telegraph article was making a negative statement about onshore windfarms in general. This is not our view or the message from our paper."

 

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Newslinks - 26th February • Lost labour, carbon auctions & altered air flows

  • 26 Feb 2013, 09:30
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Source: Met Office

Hotter, wetter climate slashes labour capacity by 10%, study shows
The hottest weather means the amount of work people can do is cut by 10 per cent, say US government scientists. Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at military and industrial guidelines already in place for heat stress and compared them to climate projections - they concluded that the amount of work productivity lost due to extreme heat could double by 2050.
Guardian

News:

AEP agrees to close 3 coal plants in emissions lawsuit
American Electric Power will stop burning coal at three power plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky by 2015. It will replace a portion of that supply with new wind and solar investments in Indiana and Michigan.
Washington Post

Global surveys show environmental concerns rank low among public concerns
Addressing climate change is not a priority for people around the world, according to a new poll. People were five times more likely to choose the economy as their main concern.
PhysOrg

German CO2 output under EU trade scheme flat in 2012
The greenhouse gas emissions of Europe's biggest economy rose 1.6 per cent last year. Germany continues to easily meet its Kyoto commitments despite emissions from the power sector remaining unchanged from a year before because of the larger economic slowdown.
Reuters

California's second carbon auction exceeds expectations
Permits to emit carbon dioxide sold for about £9 per tonne in California's second auction. All of the nearly 13 million permits sold for above the reserve price. The news comes as the European Union continues to debate reforms to its struggling emissions trading scheme.
BusinessGreen

UK Oil and Gas Industry Gives Boost to British Economy
Investment in the UK oil and gas industry is the highest it has been for 30 years, with a further near £100 billion of projects in planning.
Oil & Gas UK

Ernst & Young slams Energy Bill for "falling short of expectations"
Investor confidence continues to be undermined by uncertainty over the energy bill, says consultancy Ernst and Young. But the UK is still ranked the sixth most attractive country to invest in renewables.
BusinessGreen 

Commentary:

Why Douglas Carswell is wrong about the Climate Change Act
Business Green's Editor says Conservative MP Douglas Carswell makes a number of mistaken claims about the Climate Change Act and the Committee on Climate Change in a blog post in which he describes supporting the Act as the "biggest regret" of his career.
BusinessGreen

Fracking Bubble? Report Warns Shale Gas And Oil Won't Solve Energy Crunch
New research from the Post Carbon Institute suggests the recent boom in shale oil and gas production won't be enough to make the US energy independent - consumption will have to decline too.
Climate Progress

Fact check: has global warming paused?
The Conversation factchecks the claim that global warming has stopped for the past 17 years. It concludes the claims made by the IPCC chief on Australian radio didn't take account of ocean heating. Skeptical science also takes a look at the claim and shows that although the warming of global surface air temperatures has slowed over the past decade, the rate of heat accumulation on Earth has not slowed at all.
The Conversation

Science:

Rethinking wind power
New Harvard research suggests the potential capacity of large windfarms has been overestimated. Complex air flows created by packing wind turbines together puts a limit on how large windfarms can be.
Science Daily

Global warming may cause extremes by slowing planetary waves
New atmospheric data shows climate change may have contributed to recent extreme weather events. Research from the Potsdam Institute suggests that planetary air flows seem to be have slowed more often in recent summers and left some regions sweltering.
Reuters

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Newslinks - 25th February • Permafrost thaw, wind farms and keeping the lights on

  • 25 Feb 2013, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

Siberian permafrost thaw warning sparked by cave data
Research published in Science has found that a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise could result in permafrost thawing over a large area of Siberia, releasing more than a trillion tonnes of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. But a scientist tells  New Scientist the danger has been "overhyped".  The Guardian has created an interactive graphic.
BBC News 

News:

Wind turbines are beautiful, says head of National Trust
An interview with the new head of the National Trust, who says that wind turbines can be beautiful in the right setting. Also reported in the  Telegraph.
Sunday Times

Wind farms will create more carbon dioxide, say scientists
Research to be published in Nature says that wind farms should not be built on non-degraded peatland as it will result in more emissions from the peat. A front page article in the Sunday Telegraph says the finding "threatens the entire rationale of the onshore wind industry".
Sunday Telegraph 

Commentary:

Only the Tories have a grip on energy
In a long editorial, the Telegraph argues that the voters in the Eastleigh by-election should support the Conservatives because of George Osborne's opposition to green energy. It says that wind farms are not as environmentally friendly "as its supporters think" and that Britain should "press ahead with building gas-fired power stations". There is a selection of anti-renewables media coverage over the weekend, enthusiastically summarised  here.
Sunday Telegraph

Landowners '£1 billion wind farm boom'
A new book by Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson estimates Scotland's wealthiest private landowners are on course to earn around £1 billion in rental fees from wind farm companies.
Daily Telegraph

One day, turning off the lights won't be up to you
Christopher Booker criticises wind farms and argues that coal power stations should be kept open.
Daily Telegraph

How MPs in the pay of subsidised eco-firms set insane new carbon targets that send your heating bills sky-rocketing
The Mail on Sunday criticises the proposed amendment to the energy bill which would introduce a 2030 decarbonisation target and argues that it is being proposed by MPs with a financial interest in the renewable energy industry. A box at the end of the article purports to bust various "myths" about climate science.
Mail on Sunday

There's an easy way to keep our lights on
Comments from the head of Ofgem last week about a squeeze on the country's reserve supplies of electricity make fears about the lights going out seem real. But the answer lies in saving energy argues Geoffrey Lean. The Telegraph also has an  article about buy-to-let landlords being forced to make their properties more energy efficient under the Green Deal.
Daily Telegraph

Cameron's idiocy will put you in dark, cold poverty
Ex-Tory MP Neil Hamilton criticises UK energy policy in the light of comments by Ofgem last week. He also says that temperatures have risen by 0.7 per cent over the past century and that it is "debatable" whether this is of any significance.
Sunday Express 

Science:

Global warming may hurt productivity: study
A study published in Nature Climate Change says heat stress from global warming may be having an impact on outdoor work productivity in hot regions such as northern Australia, South-East Asia and the southern United States.
The Australian

 

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Coral bleaching could be the norm by the 2050s

  • 24 Feb 2013, 20:00
  • Freya Roberts and Roz Pidcock

Scientists know that corals are sensitive to climate change. But corals in some parts of the world will be better off than others, says new research. Those near the equator are likely to suffer soonest, while those off the coast of Madagascar and around French Polynesia might find temporary refuge for a few extra years. But the long term outlook is still bleak.

Coral bleaching

Coral reefs are one of the richest ecosystems on earth, but they are also the most sensitive to climate change.

Like the atmosphere, the oceans are  warming. Rising water temperatures stress the corals, to the point that they are forced expel the tiny colourful algae living inside them that they need to thrive - known as zooxanthellae.

This causes the corals to lose their colour - an effect known as bleaching. A coral can recover from  a single bleaching event, but persistently high temperatures can kill off whole reefs.

But the oceans are unlikely to warm at the same speed. So corals in different parts of the world probably won't all respond in the same way either.

A new study in Nature Climate Change has used the most recent generation of IPCC models and scenarios for global temperature rise to calculate how long corals in different locations might survive.

Modelling the oceans

The team worked out how quickly the world's oceans might warm for the IPCC's four different scenarios of climate change - known as Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). In each scenario, greenhouse gas emissions evolve over the next century in a slightly different way.

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