London set to miss mayor's climate change targets as population booms

  • 09 Jan 2015, 11:50
  • Simon Evans

London skyline | Shutterstock

The UK's capital is likely to miss ambitious climate targets set by mayor Boris Johnson, Carbon Brief analysis shows. With London's population expected to reach an all-time high within weeks, already-challenging climate goals are becoming even harder to meet.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the capital were 10 per cent below 1990 levels in 2012, the most recent official London climate inventory data show. But that wasn't on target - emissions were supposed to have fallen 14.5 per cent that year, according to the mayor's climate plan.

This year emissions may be 17 per cent below 1990 levels, Carbon Brief projections suggest, assuming recent trends have continued. This would be more than one million tonnes short of the mayor's interim goal for a 20 per cent reduction by 2015.

Back in 2011, Johnson announced that London would aim to cut its emissions 60 per cent by 2025, on 1990 levels. Carbon Brief projections suggest this target will be missed by a wide margin unless something changes, with London on track for just a 40 per cent cut.

London lags, not leads on climate

The mayor's 2025 climate target and interim goals for 2015 and 2020 were set out in Delivering London's Energy Future, his climate change mitigation and energy strategy. This explained how the targets would be met through action by the mayor's office along with private initiatives and national government policies.

The 60 per cent London target was and remains more ambitious than that set for the UK as a whole, which is aiming for a 50 per cent reduction by 2023-27.

The mayor's strategy said London should take a leadership role in tackling climate change. However, progress so far shows London lagging the UK as a whole. London's had achieved a 10 per cent carbon reduction in 2012, significantly less than the rest of the UK which saw emissions 25 per cent below 1990 levels in the same year.


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Germany makes slow but steady progress towards ambitious climate goals

  • 07 Jan 2015, 13:10
  • Mat Hope

German wind turbine | Shutterstock

In 2010, Germany set out a range of ambitious policies to cut emissions and decarbonise its energy sector. Four years on,  new figures show the programme, known as the  Energiewende or 'energy transition', is making slow but steady progress.

It has not been easy. Earlier this year, there was  speculation that Germany might abandon its emissions reduction target as it struggled to cut coal use.

It didn't. Instead, the government unveiled a new, refreshed  climate action plan laying out some changes to the programme.

Thinktank  Agora Energiewende* has compiled new figures showing that while Germany's direction of travel is clear, reforms are vital if the country is going to hit its climate goals.

Incremental progress

Perhaps the most striking thing about the figures is how gradual the changes to Germany's energy sector appear on an annual basis. Most power sources only increased or decreased electricity production by a single per cent in the past year.

But there are a few important differences between now and twelve months ago.

This year was the first time renewable sources produced more electricity than lignite power plants, which burn a particularly carbon-intensive type of coal. Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass power plants combined produced over a quarter of Germany's electricity in 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.19.52.png
Source: Agora Energiewende,  State of Affairs 2014

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What falling oil prices may mean for the future of renewable energy investment

  • 06 Jan 2015, 10:00
  • Mat Hope & Rosamund Pearce

Oil rig moonlight | Shutterstock

Oil prices have plummeted in recent months, with the price of oil today hitting its  lowest point for five years. That's led to lots of speculation about the impact of falling oil prices on the world's efforts to cut emissions by decarbonising the energy sector.

There's little consensus. Some analysts argue that the falling oil price could end the world's slow march towards zero carbon energy. Others say renewables are established enough to see out the storm.

There are good reasons for such uncertainty. The renewable energy industry's fate rests on a number of factors that are very hard to predict.

We take you through the key elements of what's likely to continue to be a major story in coming months.


The impact of falling oil prices on renewables varies in different parts of the world.

Renewables generate  about a fifth of the UK's electricity. Only 0.06 per cent comes from oil. It's a similar story in the US, where oil generates about  one per cent of electricity. Where oil and renewable electricity  aren't really competing, the falling oil price is  unlikely to have a major impact, in the short term at least.

But that's not the case everywhere in the world. Oil accounted for about  10 per cent of electricity production in Central and South America in 2012, and about  29 per cent in the Middle East. Here, renewables compete with oil as an electricity source. Renewables have historically been  squeezed out of the generating mix when that's the case.

Will -oil -slump -kill -renewables

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Old coal and gas plants won largest share of capacity market, final results confirm

  • 05 Jan 2015, 16:15
  • Simon Evans

An auction designed to ensure security of electricity supplies in winter 2018/19 will mainly benefit existing nuclear, gas and coal-fired power stations, final results published on Friday confirm.

Some 49 gigawatts of generating capacity secured contracts under the new capacity market. They will be paid £19.40 per kilowatt in return for promising to be available during periods of peak demand in winter 2018/19 at a total cost of nearly £1 billion. Average households will pay £11 each with business and industry picking up the remainder.

We took at look at the preliminary results back in December.

Final results

The final results were announced on 2 January and include a detailed spreadsheet listing all the plants that participated, those that secured contracts and the contract lengths. The key outcomes will be of wide interest because the UK's is the EU's first, but almost certainly not the last, capacity market. Poland and Germany are among those considering similar policies.

First, the vast majority of contracts were for a single year and went to existing capacity. (We've got the breakdown below.) This raises the obvious question of whether the capacity market was actually needed to ensure these plants stayed open.

Second, only a single large new power station won a contract. This is the 1,656 megawatt gas-fired plant at Trafford in Manchester. The government trailed the capacity market primarily as a way to incentivise the newbuild gas capacity that it says is needed to back up intermittent renewable electricity supplies.

Third, less than 1 per cent of the capacity secured came from demand-side response firms offering to cut demand when the grid is under strain. These firms have argued a greater role for the demand side would save consumers money and cut carbon.

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Capacity market secures some new gas while providing stay of execution to old coal

  • 19 Dec 2014, 08:20
  • Mat Hope

Didcot power station | Andrew Smith

  • Government agrees to pay companies £19.40 per kilowatt to keep fossil fuel power plants available
  • Only five per cent of projects included in capacity market are new builds
  • Coal and biomass plants account for 20 per cent of the capacity made available under the market
  • Scheme expected to add £11 to consumer bills, of which only 54 pence goes towards building new, less carbon intensive, capacity

A new government policy designed to ensure the UK's future energy supply appears to have successfully incentivised companies to build over two gigawatts of new gas power, to sit alongside nine gigawatts of coal and biomass power. It should ensure the UK will have at least 48.6 gigawatts of fossil fuel power stations available in 2018.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change today released the  results of its first capacity market auction. It guarantees new gas plants will get paid £19.40 for each kilowatt of power capacity companies make available at the flick of a switch. The auction's biggest winner was gas power, with around 25 gigawatts of new and existing gas power plants receiving contracts.

But only five per cent of the capacity that secured contracts will be newly built, leading to concerns that the UK could be locked into using high carbon power sources during the 2020s.

While some have emphasised the lower than expected price as good for consumers, it may also have a knock-on effect on the UK's decarbonisation plans. We take a look at the auction's result, and what it may mean for the UK's future energy mix.

The capacity market

The government introduced the capacity market to try and ensure there is always enough power generating capacity available to meet demand, even when intermittent renewables are generating less electricity. The capacity market offers companies a set price if they promise to keep a particular amount of generation available, should it be needed.

To agree the price, this week the government conducted a 'descending auction'. The auction took place over four days, with the government and companies eventually settling on a price of £19.40 per kilowatt yesterday afternoon.



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UK energy statistics: Gas power increases, renewables cover nuclear shortfall and power consumption falls

  • 18 Dec 2014, 11:45
  • Mat Hope

Tilbury power station | Shutterstock

The price of fossil fuels remains the main driver determining the UK's energy mix,  new government statistics show, despite renewables increasingly covering large power station outages.

We take a look at the Department of Energy and Climate Change's latest  quarterly energy trends statistics.

More gas power

The UK's gas generation increased significantly from July through September compared to the three months before, as gas prices continued to fall. At the same time, a slight increase in renewable generation helped to cover a power gap left by the unexpected closure of two nuclear power plants  in August.

Both factors significantly altered the face of the UK's electricity generation in the third quarter of 2014.

Gas accounted for 38 per cent of the UK's electricity generation in the third quarter, eight per cent more than in the previous three months, and 12 per cent more than at the same point a year ago. That meant companies burned a lot more gas than in the previous quarter - about another million tonnes of oil equivalent.

electricity mix q3 2013 vs 2014.png
Source: Data from the  Department of Energy and Climate Change. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Government holds first capacity market auction

  • 16 Dec 2014, 09:45
  • Mat Hope

High Marnham | Shutterstock

Companies will today bid for government subsidies to ensure power plants are available at the flick of a switch, as part of the new capacity market. The market is designed to ensure the lights always stay on, even when demand is high and the weather means renewables aren't generating electricity.

Under the scheme, power providers are paid to be available when the National Grid needs them. But it's not yet clear which power stations will be included in the scheme. That's important, as it will determine how much coal, gas, or oil gets burned for power generation, and what the impact on the UK's emissions will be.

The capacity market's first auction begins this morning. We explain how the market works, and how it fits with the government's wider energy and climate change policy goals.

Making a market

Even though  electricity demand is gradually reducing, the UK's peak demand isn't shrinking much, and is set to remain at around 53 gigawatts.

The UK has lots of old coal, gas and nuclear power plants. As they age, they get more prone to breaking, so if the power companies don't want to invest millions in upgrading them they usually shut them down.

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Low carbon policies could cut household energy costs after 2030, Committee on Climate Change says

  • 10 Dec 2014, 00:01
  • Mat Hope

Windfarm in field | Shutterstock

Investing in low carbon energy generation could lower future household energy bills and insulate the economy from volatile fossil fuel prices, the government's official climate change advisor says. But only if the government commits to implementing long-term climate policies.

A new report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) assesses the impact of the UK's low carbon policies on consumer energy bills. It expects households to pay more to decarbonise the UK's energy sector in the coming decades, but says that doing so should ultimately save people money as well as helping the UK hit its legally binding climate goals.

The committee's conclusion mirrors that of  government analysis earlier this month that showed energy bills would rise significantly if the UK fails to implement climate policies.

Bill projections

The government is legally obligated to cut the UK's emissions, the committee points out. Some policies to cut emissions are paid for by households through a levy on their energy bills. While such levies are set to increase, decarbonisation should lower electricity prices in the long run and cut demand, meaning households save money overall, the committee says.

The Climate Change Act of 2008 requires the government to cut emissions  80 per cent by 2050. With about  35 per cent of the UK's emissions currently coming from the energy sector, that means some pretty significant changes to how the country generates electricity.

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Dissecting Germany’s new climate action plan

  • 04 Dec 2014, 15:15
  • Mat Hope

Germany wind turbines | Shutterstock

Germany has implemented a series of ambitious polcies to decarbonise its economy. But despite significant investment in renewable energy, the country's emissions have been rising for the last three years. Yesterday, the government  announced new measures to get the country back on track.

We take a look at Germany's new climate action plan, and what it means for the country's long term decarbonisation prospects.

Closing the 'climate gap'

In 2010, Germany announced ambitious plans to decarbonise its energy sector and cut emissions. The plan has become known as the 'energy transition', or  Energiewende.

At the heart of the Energiewende is a goal to cut emissions 40 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The target is considerably more ambitious than the EU's goal to cut emissions 20 per cent by 2020. Germany also aims to cut emissions at least 80 per cent by 2050.

The problem is, Germany's emissions have been  increasing for the last three years. Germany's government acknowledged that if emissions continued to rise, the country would miss its 2020 target by five to eight per cent.

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Source:  Clean Energy Wire. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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A summary of climate and energy announcements in the Autumn statement 2014

  • 03 Dec 2014, 13:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Osborne statement | BBC

  • £2.3 billion for flood defences
  • £15 billion for road upgrades
  • Tidal lagoon energy project included in national infrastructure plan
  • £430 million in tax cuts for the North Sea oil and gas industry
  • Sovereign wealth fund for shale gas proceeds in the north of England

Chancellor George Osborne today announced new funding for flood defences, more roads, and support for a new tidal energy project.

The policies were part of the Autumn statement, effectively a mini-budget. This year's statement gave the government a chance to offer some financial sweeteners to marginal constituencies ahead of next year's election.

Unlike  last year's statement, which was chock-full of changes to climate and energy funding, today's announcement was a sparser affair. Here's a summary of the key climate and energy policy announcements.

Flood defences

The Treasury today unveiled its plan to allocate flood defence funding to vulnerable parts of the country, and assess funding needs for the next fifty years.

The planned £2.3 billion investment is expected to deliver better flood protection to 300,000 households across the Thames and Humber estuaries, Oxford, Lincolnshire and Somerset by 2021.

The government came under fire earlier this year for slashing flood defence grants to the Environment Agency by £138 million to help reduce the deficit. Many parts of the country experienced  severe flooding after prolonged heavy rain.

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