Carbon emissions from electricity rise as wind power runs out of puff

A shortage of wind led to an increase in emissions from electricity for the first time in almost 10 years, a study has found.

A report by the influential International Energy Association (IEA) found that the UK’s electricity generated carbon emissions last year that were more than a fifth higher than in 2020.

There was a 17 per cent spike in use of gas because of renewed demand after the peak of the pandemic as well as a lack of wind, leading to emissions of just over 69 million tonnes, up from just under 57 million in 2020, the report said.

“This was the first rise since 2012 and follows a decline in emissions of more than 70 per cent since the year 2000,” it added.

Despite plans to phase out coal to meet Net Zero targets, in September last year the UK resorted to burning more, switching on extra units to meet demand due to a squeeze on gas and an unusually still summer.

Calm weather crunch

The IEA said it expected UK emissions to fall again this year due to rising wind investment and the continued phase-out of coal.

The Government is under pressure to tackle a cost of living crisis that will see millions of UK households pay more than £2,000 in energy bills this year.

Despite growing investment in renewable energy, primarily wind, Britain is still reliant on gas for around 40 per cent of its electricity supply.

European gas supplies strained

More than half of this comes from Europe, where supplies have been constrained due to rising global demand, a long cold winter last year, disruption caused by Covid-19 and lower exports from Russia.

This has led to a rise in prices, leading to calls for green levies currently added to energy bills to be moved into general taxation to ease the cost of living pressure.

The Government has previously suggested it planned to move the bulk of levies from electricity bills onto gas bills to make running eco-friendly heat pumps and electric cars less expensive.

On Thursday, the Institute for Government, a leading think tank, warned that momentum around the Cop26 climate conference would “fizzle out” unless the Government urgently tackled the cost of living crisis.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said globally high electricity prices “risk becoming a driver of social and political tensions”.

He added: “Policy makers should be taking action now to soften the impacts on the most vulnerable and to address the underlying causes.

“Higher investment in low-carbon energy technologies including renewables, energy efficiency and nuclear power – alongside an expansion of robust and smart electricity grids – can help us get out of today’s difficulties.”

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