Continuing fall of grid power ‘carbon factor’

Although the view from my window looks grey and damp (again), the longer days and greater output from PV panels are becoming noticeable as we move into Spring. Not so long ago the power generation ‘carbon factor’ averaged over 500 grammes of CO2 per kilo-Watt-hour of power generated (500gCO2/kWh). As the UK’s wind and solar generation capacities increase, and coal-fired generation is withdrawn, we are seeing a continued fall of the carbon factor. Carbon emissions in 2016 were 36% below the reference year of 1990, against which legal targets to cut climate pollution are measured. Recent figures from the DBEIS suggests UK carbon emissions in 2016 were at the lowest level since 1894! Progress indeed!

So what does this mean for our heating technologies? A ground-source heat pump (GSHP) with a conservative seasonal performance factor (SPF) of 3.0 is 41% more carbon efficient than a gas-fired boiler operating at 92% efficiency. Against a typical oil-fired boiler, the carbon saving is 61%. For GSHPs operating in new build properties, the carbon reduction can be even higher. Heat pumps are also zero NOx and zero particulate emitters at the point of use. Zero carbon grid electricity remains some way off, but there are heat pumps operating today that will one day provide zero-carbon heating.

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