Understanding UK Carbon Dioxide Emissions



Since the beginning of SCI Energy Group’s blog series, new
legislation has come into place regarding emission targets. Instead of the
previous 80% reduction target, the UK must now achieve net-zero emissions by
2050. This makes significant, rapid emission reduction even more critical. This
article introduces the main sources of UK CO2 emissions across individual

The Big Picture

In 2018, UK CO2 emissions totalled to roughly 364 million
tonnes. This was 2.4% lower than 2017 and 43.5% lower than 1990. The image
below shows how much each individual sector contributed to the total UK carbon
dioxide emissions in 2018. As can be seen, large emitting sectors include:
energy supply, transport and residential. For this reason, CO2 emission trends
from these sectors are discussed in this article.


1 Shows the percentage contribution toward Total UK
Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Sector (2018)

Figure: BEIS

Transport Sector

In 2018, the transport sector accounted for 1/3rd of total
UK CO2 emissions. Since 1990, there has been relatively little change in the
level of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. Historically, transport has
been the second most-emitting sector. However, due to emission reductions in
the energy supply sector, it is now the biggest emitting sector and has been
since 2016. Emission sources include road transport, railways, domestic aviation, shipping, fishing & aircraft support vehicles.


The main source of emissions are petrol and diesel in road transport. 

Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV) can provide emission
reductions in this sector. Some examples of these include: hybrid electric,
battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In 2018, there were 200,000
ULEV’s on the road in the UK. In addition to this, there was a 53% increase in
ULEV vehicle registration compared to 2016. In 2018, UK government released
the ‘Road to Zero Strategy’, which seeks to see 50% of new cars to be ULEV’s by
2030 and 40% of new vans.


Energy Supply Sector

In the past, the energy supply sector was the biggest
emitting sector but, since 1990, this sector has reduced its greenhouse gas
emissions by 60% making it the second-biggest emitting sector. Between 2017 and
2018, this sector accounted for the largest decrease in CO2 emissions (7.2%). Emission sources included fuel combustion for electricity generation and other energy production sources, The main sources of emission are use of natural gas and coal in power plants.  


In 2015, the Carbon Price Floor tax changed from £9/tonne
CO2 emitted to £18/ tonne CO2 emitted. This resulted in a shift from coal to
natural gas use for power generation. There has also been a considerable
growth in low-carbon technologies for power generation. All of these have
contributed to emission reductions in this sector.


Figure 2 – Natural gas power plant

Residential Sector

Out of the total greenhouse gas emissions from the
residential sector, CO2 emissions account for 96%. Emissions from this sector
are heavily influenced by external temperatures. For example, colder
temperatures drive higher emissions as more heating is required.

In 2018, this sector accounted for 18% of total UK CO2
emissions. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 2.8% increase in residential
emissions. Overall, emissions from this sector have dropped by 16% since 1990. Emission sources include fuel combustion for heating and cooking, garden machinery and aerosols. The main source of emission are natural gas for heating and cooking. 


The UK has reduced CO2 emissions by 43.5% since 1990.
However, further emission reductions are required to meet net-zero targets. The
energy supply sector has reduced emissions by 60% since 1990 but remains the
second biggest emitter. In comparison to this, emission reductions in the
residential sector are minor. Yet, they are still greater than the transport
sector, which has remained relatively static. Each of these sectors require
significant emission reduction to aid in meeting new emission targets.

Reace Edwards is a member of SCI’s Energy group and a PhD Chemical Engineering student at the University of Chester. Read more about her involvement with SCI here or watch her recent TEDx Talk here.

Six things you may not know about the UK’s ene…


Energy is critical to life. However, we must work to find
solution to source sustainable energy which compliments the UK’s emission targets. This article discusses six interesting facts concerning the UK’s diversified energy
supply system and the ways it is shifting towards decarbonised alternatives.

Finite Resources

1. In 2015, UK government announced plans to close unabated coal-fired
power plants by 2025.


A coal-fired power plant in Minnesota, US. Image: Tony Webster/Flickr

In recent years, energy generation
from coal has dropped significantly. In March 2018, Eggborough power station, North Yorkshire, closed, leaving only seven coal power plants operational in the UK. In May this
year, Britain set a record by going one week without coal power. This was the
first time since 1882!

2. Over 40% of the UK’s electricity supply comes from gas.


A natural gas search oil rig. Image: Pixabay

While it may
be a fossil fuel, natural gas releases less carbon dioxide emissions compared
to that of coal and oil upon combustion. However, without mechanisms in place
to capture and store said carbon dioxide it is still a carbon intensive energy

3. Nuclear power accounts for approximately 8% of UK energy supply.


Nuclear power
generation is considered a low-carbon process. In 2025, Hinkley Point C nuclear
power-plant is scheduled to open in Somerset. With an electricity generation
capacity of 3.2GW, it is considerably bigger than a typical power-plant.

Renewable Resources

In 2018, the
total installed capacity of UK renewables increased by 9.7% from the previous
year. Out of this, wind power, solar power and plant biomass accounted for

4. The Irish Sea is home to the world’s largest
wind farm, Walney Extension.


The Walney offshore wind farm. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In addition
to this, the UK has the third highest total installed wind capacity across
Europe. The World Energy Council define an ‘ideal’ wind farm as one which experiences
wind speed of over 6.9 metres per second at a height of 80m above ground.
As can be seen in the image below, at 100m, the UK is well suited for wind

5. Solar power accounted for 29.5% of total renewable electricity capacity
in 2018.


This was an
increase of 12% from the previous year (2017) and the highest amount to date! Such
growth in solar power can be attributed to considerable technology cost
reductions and greater average sunlight hours, which increased by up to 0.6
hours per day in 2018. 

Currently, the intermittent
availability of both solar and wind energy means that fossil fuel reserves are
required to balance supply and demand as they can run continuously and are
easier to control.

6. In
2018, total UK electricity generation from bioenergy accounted for
approximately 32% of all renewable generation.


A biofuel plant in Germany.

This was the
largest share of renewable generation per source and increased by 12% from the
previous year. As a result of Lynemouth power station, Northumberland, and another unit at Drax, Yorkshire, being converted from fossil fuels to biomass, there was a large increase in
plant biomass capacity from 2017.

Reace Edwards is a member of SCI’s Energy group and a PhD Chemical Engineering student at the University of Chester. Read more about her involvement with SCI here or watch her recent TEDx Talk here.

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