What is “decarbonisation” of the power sector? Why do we need to decarbonise the power sector in the UK?

The decarbonisation of the power sector means reducing its carbon intensity; that is, the emissions per unit of electricity generated (often given in grams of CO2 per kWh). This is necessary to achieve the mandatory greenhouse gas emission targets set in the UK Climate Change Act, which requires emissions to be cut by 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

A gradual decarbonisation of the power sector can be achieved by increasing the share of low-carbon energy sources, like renewables and nuclear, as well as by capping greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power stations through Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) devices, once the technology becomes available.

A shift from ‘dirtier’ fossil fuels, like coal (which emits on average 900g CO2/kWh), to lower emissions fuels, like natural gas (which emits about 400 g CO2/kWh) or renewables, can also help to reduce power plant emissions.

In the longer term, the UK Committee on Climate Change advises that the power sector’s carbon intensity should decrease from its current levels of 500g CO2/kWh to 200g CO2/kWh in 2020 and to 50g CO2/kWh in 2030.

According to the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations, by 2050 the power sector should be entirely decarbonised, meaning its emissions should be close to zero.

Further reading

  1. Grantham Research Institute policy brief (1.45MB)
  2. Gov.uk Carbon budget factsheet
  3. Committee on Climate Change : Climate Change Act webpage
  4. Committee on Climate Change: fourth carbon budget review part 1