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Britain cleans up act with highest levels of low-carbon electricity

50.2% of Britain’s electricity was produced from low-carbon energy sources in Quarter 3 2016 according to a report authored by Imperial researchers in collaboration with Drax Group, owner and operator of one of the UK’s largest power stations and Europe’s biggest biomass-fuelled power plant.

Drax Electric Insights Report

Dr Iain Staffell led a team from Imperial, including Professors Richard Green and Tim Green (experts in energy economics and electrical engineering), and Dr Rob Gross (an expert in energy policy) to produce the first of the Drax Electric Insights Reports which provide new empirical evidence to contribute to the UK energy debate.

The new report sheds light on the scale and impact of Britain’s renewable energy revolution over the last six years – and the unprecedented changes taking place in the UK energy sector which include: the Government’s commitment to shift away from coal by 2025, obligations to decarbonise, policy levers including the Carbon Price Floor, commitments to new nuclear, and prices reaching new highs and new lows.

The highlights include…

  • Low-carbon sources of energy – such as nuclear, hydro, biomass, wind and solar – now contribute twice as much electricity than they did in 2010 (20%)
  • Carbon emissions from electricity consumption are at a record low – down a third over a 12-month period and 56% over four years
  • Britain now has 26GW of wind and solar installed – a six-fold increase over the last six years, while biomass has increased from nothing to 2GW of generating capacity
  • Carbon Price Floor plays a big role in reducing coal’s contribution which was just 3% of the UK’s electricity last quarter – down from 38% during the same period in 2012
  • The contribution of nuclear, biomass, hydro, wind, solar and low-carbon electricity imports from France peaked at 50.2%, up from just 20% in 2010 between July and September 2016.

The team will continue to analyse raw data from the National Grid and Elexon (who run the electricity network and balancing market respectively), producing further quarterly Electric Insights Reports to chart supply and demand, prices, emissions, the performance of the various generation technologies and the networks that connect them.

“This report shows Britain’s energy system is changing dramatically and we are seeing real benefits. Cleaner energy has reached a record high, and carbon emissions from electricity hit a record low. We can also see the crucial role that policy levers like the Carbon Price Floor play.

“But there is more to do to make Britain truly low carbon.  Additional reliable, affordable, clean energy is needed on the system, along with a focus of getting the balance right. More intermittent renewables like wind and solar are crucial but they will require more flexible back up, like biomass, to provide homes and business with electricity on demand.”

Andy Koss
Drax Power CEO


“You cannot manage what you cannot measure.  Although there is a huge amount of data available on our electricity system, before now there was no way to put it all together to see the big picture of what is happening, and more importantly why.

“My work with Drax provided an opportunity to apply my research to cut through the noise and understand Britain’s electricity is changing for the better.  We are so used to bad-news stories about the environment, so it is good to see that for once concrete progress is being made.”

Iain Staffell
Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London


Further reading…

You can read more insights from the report on the Drax wesbite, plus the full report can be found here. You can also visit the supporting interactive website, which provides live data from 2009 until the present.

A press release announcing the launch of the Drax Electric Insights Report can be found here.

For more information about Drax visit their website or twitter Drax@Draxnews 

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