British Gas and SSE, Two of Britain’s largest energy suppliers, which have over 40 per cent of the market between them, are more reliant on coal to produce the electricity they sell to customers than they were 10 years ago. They now use more coal to produce electricity than they did in 2005, new figures suggest. Experts said their reliance on coal – the dirtiest form of fossil fuel, which produces twice as much CO2 as gas – was undermining attempts to cut the UK’s carbon emissions through renewable supplies. Electricity generated by coal emits around 910 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour compared with 390g for gas generation, and nothing for nuclear or renewable power.
In the past 10 years the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources has grown by 400 per cent – yet total carbon emissions from generation have only fallen by around 8 per cent. This is because while the Big Six energy companies are now buying more than a third of the energy that they sell from polluting coal-fired power stations, they have cut back on buying power from more expensive but greener gas-fired power stations.
Last year, 22 per cent of the electricity sold by British Gas came from coal generation. In 2005 the figure was 14 per cent. Just over 31 per cent of SSE’s electricity was generated from coal compared with 29 per cent in 2005. New entrants to the electricity market that have benefited from consumers switching suppliers for cheaper bills are highly dependent on coal. iSupplyEnergy, First Utility and Flow Energy, for example, sell electricity of which almost half is produced by coal-fired power stations.
Experts said many companies had chosen to continue buying and using electricity generated from coal because it was more profitable to do so. “In the absence of rules to cut pollution from the dirtiest coal stations it has been very profitable for the big energy companies to burn more coal,” said Joss Garman, associate director for energy and climate change at IPPR. “This has been hugely damaging to Britain’s efforts to build a cleaner economy because it has cancelled out some of the carbon savings brought about by the growth in green energy.”
Doug Parr, Greenpeace’s policy director added: “These companies may be using more clean energy, but to live up to their rhetoric of combating climate change, they also need to exclude the dirtiest fuel from their energy mix and that means cutting back on coal…