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  • May 31st, 2013

UK gas-fired power hit 16-year lows in 2012

The proportion of UK electricity generated from gas fell to 16-year lows last year as cheaper coal prices spurred generators into increasing coal-fired power to its greatest share of the electricity mix since 1996, government data shows.

The share of gas-fired power within the UK generation mix fell from 39.9% in 2011 to just 27.5% in 2012, according to provisional government data, while coal burn increased from 29.5% to 39.3% over the same period.

The inversion of the UK’s dominant fuel sources represents a radical shift in electricity generation to the highest percentage of coal-fired power within the energy mix since 1996, and the lowest gas-fired power share since the same year.

“This was due to high gas prices, with several gas stations being run at minimal or zero levels as a result,” the Department of Energy and Climate Change said alongside the data.

In outright terms total coal-fired power was at six-year highs of 142.8 TWh in 2012, up from 108.6 TWh in 2011, but outright gas burn fell to 16-year lows of 99.7 TWh from 146.8 TWh in 2011 as nuclear, renewable energy and electricity imports further eroded the need for expensive gas-fired power.

Nuclear generation rose 2.1% on year to its highest level in six years at 70.4 TWh in 2012, while wind and solar power generation surged 31.5% higher to 20.7 TWh.

In addition, the UK almost doubled its imports of electricity from continental Europe to 12.0 TWh as Dutch imports rose to their highest in 12 years.

Soaring coal-fired power generation data comes just one day after estimates from the European Commission showing the UK’s carbon emissions rising despite an overall decrease in emissions across the EU.

EU statistics agency Eurostat issued early estimates showing that from 2011 to 2012 carbon emissions decreased in nearly all member states but rose 3.9% in the UK.

The UK posted the second highest year-on-year emissions increase — second only to Malta at 6.3% on year — and is the second-highest emitter in absolute terms at 472 million mt for 2012 behind Germany at 728 million mt, Eurostat said.

But the UK’s DECC was quick to dismiss the year-on-year gains as a short-term trend, with the longer-term giving way to a de-carbonisation of the power sector in line with EU targets.

“Cheaper coal relative to gas has resulted in a short-term increase in the amount of carbon emissions from UK power stations. The amount of coal generation is expected to decline rapidly by 2020 as a result of our move to a low carbon economy,” a DECC spokesman said.

The UK currently has in place a 2050 target to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by 80% from 1990 levels. But the government has failed to vote in an amendment to the upcoming Energy Bill which would set a 2030 target intensity limit.

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