It’s a careful public relations trick. Look at the brochures of electricity companies, check out their websites and watch their adverts and you’ll see green pictures full of wind farms and sunshine, waves pounding on a beach or kites blowing in the air. These are the images that now surround electricity generation.
But however much we try to hide it, or choose to ignore it, the reality is that at least 60 per cent of many European countries’ electricity still comes from fossil fuels, including more than 40 per cent from oil and coal-fired plants. The big, old-fashioned power stations that belch out carbon dioxide have not disappeared after all.
Obviously we have some way to go to meet output from one of China’s power stations, or similar plants in the US. But taking the UK as an example, its power sector emits 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per person each year. That’s 192 million tonnes in total. Despite being the cleanest coal-fired station in the country, the Drax power station is still the biggest polluter and produces 23.7m tonnes of CO2 each year alone, as well as 4,000 megawatts and seven per cent of the UK’s electricity needs. It takes an awful lot of low-energy light bulbs to counter that kind of output.
But imagine that one of those fuel-guzzling power stations was simply shut down and ceased working. That it stopped burning oil, gas or coal – without causing any adverse effect on the nation’s electricity supply. That would result in serious reductions in carbon emissions, which, added to people’s own energy efficiency drives, would go a long way to meeting the EU targets on greenhouse gas reduction.