By Simon Evans
The latest Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reveals a nation in the midst of a low-carbon transition. However, it also shows that fossil fuel extraction increased for the first time in 15 years.
Carbon Brief has produced five charts to show what happened to the UK's energy mix in 2015.
1. Fossil Decline
Fossil fuels supplied 82 percent of the UK's primary energy in 2015, by far the lowest share in records going back nearly half a century. Within that, coal use fell to 25 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe), down 21 percent in a year and just one quarter of the amount used in 1970.
Top: UK primary energy use by source, millions of tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe), 1970-2015. Bottom: Shares of UK energy use (percent). Source: DUKES table 1.1.1.Carbon Brief / Highcharts
The fall in coal use means it reached a new nadir, having already dropped to levels not seen since the industrial revolution. Oil and gas demand increased slightly in 2015, up 1.4 percent and 2.7 percent respectively because of falling prices and cooler weather compared to a year earlier.
2. Transport Turnaround
Overall, UK energy use increased slightly in 2015, though it continued its decade-long decline once variations in weather are taken into account. Transport energy use is now the exception to this trend, having increased for two years running as cheap oil fuels increased traffic.
UK energy use by sector (Mtoe), 1970-2015. Source: DUKES table 1.1.5.Carbon Brief / Highcharts
Domestic energy use continues to fall, with ups and downs due to the weather. It's interesting to note that reductions in industrial energy use appear to be tailing off, either because energy efficiency efforts are slowing or because output is increasing.
3. Low-Carbon Power
The speed of the UK's low-carbon transition has been particularly dramatic in the electricity sector. Nuclear (21 percent) and renewables (25 percent) generated nearly half of the UK's electricity in 2015, with renewables up five percentage points.
Top: UK electricity generation by source, terawatt hours (TWh), 1996-2015. Bottom: Shares of UK electricity generation (percent). Source: DUKES table 5.5. Carbon Brief / Highcharts
Coal-fired power generation continues to plummet, falling by a quarter in one year and by nearly half since 2012, the high point of the past two decades. Coal has fallen even further in the first half of 2016. Notably electricity generated from gas has remained steady, with renewables claiming market share from coal.
4. Renewable Rise
Wind, solar and biomass all contributed to the rising share of renewable electricity. Onshore wind generation increased by 23 percent on a year earlier, while offshore wind and biomass grew 30 percent as new wind farms were completed and Drax continued its conversion from coal to wood pellets.
The largest percentage increase was for solar, which grew 87 percent year-on-year and met around 2 percent of the UK's electricity needs for 2015. In May 2016, Carbon Brief analysis showed that solar generated more electricity than coal for a full month for the first time ever.
UK renewable electricity by source (TWh), 1990-2015. Source: DUKES table 6.1.1.Carbon Brief / Highcharts
The increases in solar and biomass electricity are unlikely to continue at such a rate during 2016. Solar installation rates surged during 2015 to take advantage of closing subsidy schemes, while Drax is unlikely to convert further coal units to biomass for the foreseeable future.
5. Maximizing Recovery
While the UK is in the midst of a low-carbon transition, that doesn't mean it has stopped the extraction of fossil fuels. In fact, combined coal, oil and gas production rose in 2015, the first annual increase since 1999. Within this increase, coal extraction fell by 26 percent year-on-year.
UK fossil fuel extraction by source (Mtoe), 1998-2015. Source: Dukes table 1.1. Carbon Brief / Highcharts
The government has made it a legal obligation to draw up strategies to "maximize economic recovery" of UK fossil fuel resources. As chancellor, George Osborne introduced a series of tax breaks designed to meet this obligation. The exchequer is actually paying some oil majors, as they can reclaim tax paid in previous years to offset the costs of decommissioning North Sea assets.
As ever, it's worth keeping a longer-term perspective on the UK's low-carbon transition. While last year saw record contributions from low-carbon sources, the UK still relies on fossil fuels for 82 percent of its energy and 54 percent of its power.
The UK's fifth carbon budget, recently passed into law, will require the power sector to be largely decarbonized by 2030. Meanwhile, the Paris agreement on climate change means the UK has pledged, along with almost 200 other nations, to almost completely decarbonize all energy use soon after mid-century. There's a long way to go.
Below, Carbon Brief has produced an animated GIF of the DUKES energy flow charts for the UK 2012-2015. It shows at a glance how the inputs and outputs to UK energy use have changed over recent years.
The flows show shares of each year's total, obscuring the overall decline in energy use noted above. Even so, some interesting trends are visible.
Note, for instance, how coal use shrinks over the four-year period, while the darker pink band showing renewable electricity inputs grows.
It's also worth noting that this year the chart is published by BEIS, the new department created in a merger of the old Department of Energy and Climate Change and the department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.