Perspective | Published:

Rapid fuel switching from coal to natural gas through effective carbon pricing

Nature Energyvolume 3pages365372 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Great Britain’s overall carbon emissions fell by 6% in 2016, due to cleaner electricity production. This was not due to a surge in low-carbon nuclear or renewable sources; instead it was the much-overlooked impact of fuel switching from coal to natural gas generation. This Perspective considers the enabling conditions in Great Britain and the potential for rapid fuel switching in other coal-reliant countries. We find that spare generation and fuel supply-chain capacity must already exist for fuel switching to deliver rapid carbon savings, and to avoid further high-carbon infrastructure lock-in. More important is the political will to alter the marketplace and incentivize this switch, for example, through a stable and strong carbon price. With the right incentives, fuel switching in the power sector could rapidly achieve on the order of 1 GtCO2 saving per year worldwide (3% of global emissions), buying precious time to slow the growth in cumulative carbon emissions.

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Acknowledgements

This research was undertaken as part of the UKERC research programme EP/L024756/1, and I.S. was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through project EP/M001369/1.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Energy2050, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK

    • I. A. Grant Wilson
  2. Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London, UK

    • Iain Staffell

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to I. A. Grant Wilson.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-018-0109-0