The potential environmental consequences of shifts in UK energy policy that impact on electricity generation

Geoffrey P Hammond, Aine O'Grady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Internationally, there has been a move by nations to decarbonise their electricity systems in an effort to tackle rising territorial emissions. No consensus has been fully reached on best approach, which has led to significant divergence in energy policy between countries and a consequential lack of long-term clarity. Additionally, recent UK policy failures, in terms of stimulating greater energy efficiency and encouraging energy innovation, highlight the huge challenge involved in developing and achieving a low carbon future. Steps to decarbonise electricity whilst also providing a secure and affordable supply, can lead to varying life-cycle environmental consequences. A UK research consortium developed three pathways to explore this move to a more electric low carbon future out to 2050. These pathways have been previously evaluated in terms of their life-cycle energy and environmental performance within a wider sustainability framework. Over the course of the project, greater understanding of the generation technologies and the functionality of the overall system under the different regimes were gained. Here, the environmental consequences of the most recent version of the pathways are presented on a life-cycle basis from ‘cradle-to-gate.’ Thus, the environmental impact of technological trends in UK energy policy and their effect on the pathways are explored through a series of sensitivity analyses. The three UK energy futures incorporating ‘disruptive’ technological options were examined based on the phase out of coal use in favour of gas-fired power, ranging penetration levels of carbon capture and storage, and the allocation and fuel type used for combined heat and power. Recommendations are proposed to help frame future energy policy choices in order to limit the environmental consequences of future electricity systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-550
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Part A: Journal of Power and Energy
Volume231
Issue number6
Early online date24 Oct 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017

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Energy policy
Life cycle
Electricity
Carbon capture
Carbon
Environmental impact
Energy efficiency
Sustainable development
Innovation
Coal
Gases

Cite this

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abstract = "Internationally, there has been a move by nations to decarbonise their electricity systems in an effort to tackle rising territorial emissions. No consensus has been fully reached on best approach, which has led to significant divergence in energy policy between countries and a consequential lack of long-term clarity. Additionally, recent UK policy failures, in terms of stimulating greater energy efficiency and encouraging energy innovation, highlight the huge challenge involved in developing and achieving a low carbon future. Steps to decarbonise electricity whilst also providing a secure and affordable supply, can lead to varying life-cycle environmental consequences. A UK research consortium developed three pathways to explore this move to a more electric low carbon future out to 2050. These pathways have been previously evaluated in terms of their life-cycle energy and environmental performance within a wider sustainability framework. Over the course of the project, greater understanding of the generation technologies and the functionality of the overall system under the different regimes were gained. Here, the environmental consequences of the most recent version of the pathways are presented on a life-cycle basis from ‘cradle-to-gate.’ Thus, the environmental impact of technological trends in UK energy policy and their effect on the pathways are explored through a series of sensitivity analyses. The three UK energy futures incorporating ‘disruptive’ technological options were examined based on the phase out of coal use in favour of gas-fired power, ranging penetration levels of carbon capture and storage, and the allocation and fuel type used for combined heat and power. Recommendations are proposed to help frame future energy policy choices in order to limit the environmental consequences of future electricity systems.",
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