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Grid emissions rise for second month in a row as power decarbonisation stalls across Britain

16 June 2021

Coal-burning May drives grid emissions higher in 2021 than in 2020 across Britain

With just five months to go until the UK co-hosts the COP26 summit, Britain’s grid continues to be dirtier now than it was a year ago, with heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

The grid was on average 24% dirtier in May 2021 than in May 2020, with a carbon intensity – the measure of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity – of 178 gCO2/kWh. It means there has been no progress in grid decarbonisation for a second month in a row, with the grid 20% dirtier in April 2021 than April 2020. After a coal-free May last year, coal was burned on 20 days in May this year. Gas, another fossil fuel, was the country’s leading source of power.

Decarbonising the grid is essential to hitting the Government’s new target of a 78% reduction in emission by 2035, and net zero by 2050. Clean electricity will be required to power new fleets of electric vehicles, home heat pumps, and green hydrogen production, the first steps in decarbonising the rest of the economy.

There was a bright spot, with nuclear power from Hinkley Point B along with solar output, giving the South West the cleanest power in Britain in May. It was one of only three out of 14 regions to meet the UK’s 2030 electricity decarbonisation target of 50-100 gCO2/kWh.

Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said:

“The UK needs urgent action to reverse our backsliding on grid decarbonisation. For that to happen, the Government must legislate for a new financing model for nuclear and drive investment in a new generation of nuclear stations to cut emissions and help level up the economy. The UK cannot afford to stall further.”

ENDS
Notes to Editors

  • Nuclear is the second most important source of clean power in the UK currently, after wind.
  • Nuclear power has saved the UK more than 2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions in total, the equivalent of all UK emissions from 2015 through 2020.
  • The UK’s eight nuclear power stations have a combined land footprint of less than 1 square mile.
  • The South West had a carbon intensity of 52 gCO2/kWh in May 2021, compared to 65 gCO2/kWh in May 2020. Southern and Northern Scotland were the other two regions to meet the UK’s 2030 decarbonisation target of 50-100 gCO2/kWh in May.
  • Hinkley Point B has produced more clean electricity and saved more emissions, 227 million tonnes, than any other single power station in British history.