The energy and environmental implications of UK more electric transition pathways: A whole systems perspective

G.P. Hammond, H.R. Howard, C.I. Jones

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Electricity generation contributes a large proportion of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom (UK), due to the predominant use of fossil fuel (coal and natural gas) inputs. Indeed, the various power sector technologies [fossil fuel plants with and without carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear power stations, and renewable energy technologies (available on a large and small {or domestic} scale)] all involve differing environmental impacts and other risks. Three transition pathways for a more electric future out to 2050 have therefore been evaluated in terms of their life-cycle energy and environmental performance within a broader sustainability framework. An integrated approach is used here to assess the impact of such pathways, employing both energy analysis and environmental life-cycle assessment (LCA), applied on a 'whole systems' basis: from 'cradle-to-gate'. The present study highlights the significance of 'upstream emissions', in contrast to power plant operational or 'stack' emissions, and their (technological and policy) implications. Upstream environmental burdens arise from the need to expend energy resources in order to deliver, for example, fuel to a power station. They include the energy requirements for extraction, processing/refining, transport, and fabrication, as well as methane leakage that occurs in coal mining activities - a major cotribution - and from natural gas pipelines. The impact of upstream emissions on the carbon performance of various low carbon electricity generators [such as large-scale combined heat and power (CHP) plant and CCS] and the pathways distinguish the present findings from those of other UK analysts. It suggests that CCS is likely to deliver only a 70% reduction in carbon emissions on a whole system basis, in contrast to the normal presumption of a 90% reduction. Similar results applied to other power generators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-116
Number of pages14
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


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