Coal Generation in Great Britain: The pathway to a low-carbon future

Wednesday, 15 February, 2017 - 12:30

In early November 2016 the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy of the British Government made an open consultation request on "Coal Generation in Great Britain: The pathway to a low-carbon future". Researchers across TRANSrisk partner Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex, Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) and the Sussex Energy Group have issued a response to this request.

The request has great similarities with TRANSrisk case study in Poland which examines how sustainable economic growth could be supported by a more efficient use of energy resources, since coal plays a dominant role in the primary energy supply in Poland. Thus the response to the request includes comments from TRANSrisk partner Institute for Structural Research (IBS) who is leading TRANSrisk case study in Poland.

The response examines, in terms of benefits and risks, climate change policies that could assist UK to achieve targets legislated under the Climate Act 2008. It is emphasised that a "whole-system" outlook to the energy sector is required. Also the role of Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) is examined as a measure to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Furthermore, the principle of establishing a constraint on coal generation in the years ahead of 2025 is also examined. It is suggested that such a constrain will have positive impacts on the decarbonisation of the electricity sector, and particularly renewable energy and energy demand innovation. 

Also, regarding the security of energy supply the study highlights that assumptions made about demand are crucial in determining sufficient capacity. Capacity needed to meet peak demand is highly dependent on policies to address energy efficiency, demand-side response and load shifting. Thus, demand side management policies need to be included in assessing the security of electricity supply.

Lastly, the response explores the wider impacts of a coal phase-out by 2025. More particularly, a coal phase-out strategy would send a clear message of commitment to decreasing GHG emissions, thus encouraging investments in renewable energy sources. On the other hand, a significant impact on the labour market for several local communities is expected, with job loss in regions where coal plants are located. However, the job loss problem could be counterbalanced by measures such as retraining of workers, creation of job opportunities, etc. It is highly suggested that detailed economic projections for the affected regions are performed using a macroeconomic model that utilises input-output tables to account for the interlinkages between sectors.


Summing up, the response highlights are the following:

  • A constraint on coal generation in the years ahead of 2025 is necessary;
  • Greater emphasis and further studies needed on demand-side management in decarbonising the electricity sector;
  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has many uncertainties that require further exploration;
  • Renewable energy sources supported by the appropriate policy mix can contribute significantly to decarbonising the electricity sector as well as other energy sectors;
  • Energy sector system wide approach should be adopted in policy making to ensure targets are met in a coherent, timely and cost effective manner;
  • Studies should be carried out to explore the impacts of a coal phase out on the labour market.

Researchers that have contributed to the response are:

  • Prof Benjamin K. Sovacool
  • Dr Lucy Baker
  • Dr Noam Bergman
  • Dr Jenny Lieu
  • Dr Karoline Rogge
  • Dr Paula Kivimaa
  • Claire Copeland
  • Bryony Parrish
  • Ed Dearnley
  • Dr Jan Witajewski-­‐Baltvilks (IBS)
  • Marek Antosiewicz (IBS)
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