UK electricity by DEFRA


The category at /business/energy/electricity/defra/uk provides a dataset and a calculation methodology for greenhouse gas emissions associated with the consumption of grid electricity in the United Kingdom. The data is sourced from the UK government department DEFRA.

The methodology

Emissions model

Emissions are calculated, according to this methodology, on the basis on emissions factors which relate a quantity of grid electricity electricity with an associated quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions factors are based on the average annual emissions intensity of grid electricity in each country (or other region), as specified on a per kWh basis. By multiplying a quantity of electricity by the appropriate factor, the total quantity of emissions are calculated.

Model data

The comprehensive dataset included within methodology differentiates several aspects of electricity-associated emissions, including: (1) the activities of generation, transmission and consumption; (2) direct, indirect and life cycle emissions; (3) historical (raw annual or annual rolling average) data.

Activity type: Separate data are available for greenhouse gas emissions attributable to electricity generation, electricity transmission and distribution, and electricity consumption. All greenhouse gas emissions are ultimately associated with the generation phase, being a consequence of fuel/energy consumption (direct emissions) and related activities (indirect: e.g. fuel sourcing, transport) at the power plant. However, since there are usually losses associated with the distribution and transmission of electricity, the quantity of emissions per unit of electricity generated (e.g. kWh) usually differs from the corresponding per unit emissions at the point of consumption. The DEFRA dataset provides values for greenhouse gas quantities which are attributable to the intermediate transmission phase, although these should be understood to be an accounting convenience reflecting transmission (in)efficiency rather than actual emissions caused during this phase. The emissions associated with electricity consumption are simply the sum of those attributable to generation and transmission. In most cases - i.e. those in which the final, end-point of electricity usage is under consideration - the values for consumption should be used.

Emission type: The DEFRA dataset differentiates between direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. 'Direct' emissions are limited to those associated with activities at the power plant, while 'indirect' emissions refer to those which derive from other stages in the production chain such as raw material extraction and fuel delivery. The combination of these two types of emission represents full life cycle emissions for electricity. The importance of these emissions types will vary depending on how the user attributes the various portions of the life cycle emissions to the various agents involved (e.g. supplier, producer, consumer). It is most common to use direct emissions only when considering electricity consumption. Direct emissions are additionally differentiated by the specific greenhouse gases CO2, CH4 and N2O, the latter two quantities being expressed in terms of CO2e. Indirect and life cycle emissions are expressed in terms of CO2e.

Historical values: The greenhouse gas emissions produced per unit of electricity generated/consumed varies through time as the mix of fuels used by power stations supplying a national or regional grid changes. These changes may reflect variations in electricity demand or the relative prices of different fuel types. DEFRA publishes annual emissions factors based on the average quantity of emissions per unit of electricity across the grid during each calendar year. These values cover the period 1990-2008. In addition to the raw annual values, DEFRA provides 'rolling average' emissions factors which represent the average of the previous 5 years for each given year. These are suggested as being more suitable for inter-annual comparisons by DEFRA.

How to use this category

Choosing an emissions scenario

To use this category, choose the type of activity using the type drill down choice. The following options are available:

  • electricity generation
  • electricity distribution and transmission
  • electricity consumption
For most cases - i.e. considering everyday electricity usage - 'electricity consumption' is the most appropriate selection. Next, select the type of emission required using the emission drill down choice. The following options are available:
  • direct
  • indirect
  • life cycle (direct + indirect)
Finally, select the basis for the data used in the calculation using the basis drill down choice. The choices are:
  • annual
  • rolling average
The annual data values are applicable only to direct emissions calculations.

Specifying activity data

The quantity of electricity under consideration is specified by setting the energyConsumed profile item value. If users specify start- and end-dates in association with their electricity consumption, CarbonKit will use its data item value history functionality to apply the appropriate emissions factor(s). If no profile dates are set, the most recent (i.e. 2008) data are used.


In the case of direct emissions, four quantities are returned, as follows:

  • CO2: CO2 emissions
  • methaneCO2e: CH4 emissions
  • nitrousOxideCO2e: N2O emissions
  • totalCO2e: total direct CO2e emissions (all gases combined)
Note that each of these values - including the separated CH4 and N2O emissions - are expressed in terms of carbon-dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) emissions.

For indirect and life cycle emissions, just the totalCO2e quantity is returned which represents total CO2e emissions for the indirect and life-cycle perspectives respectively. All quantities represent greenhouse gas (CO2e) emissions associated with the energy quantity (and dates) specified.

AG1AVAPU6AOR electricity consumption, direct, annual
DWHS5B9GVOAY electricity consumption, direct, rolling average
UO8R0WG76YVP electricity consumption, indirect, rolling average
7E15YQTPDFFS electricity consumption, life cycle, rolling average
29BFJH47OSR9 electricity distribution and transmission, direct, annual
GL3I497C92RW electricity distribution and transmission, direct, rolling average
4GJZLFSA53KA electricity distribution and transmission, indirect, rolling average
9L7T7PZFL7D2 electricity distribution and transmission, life cycle, rolling average
YTVXSVTBI7CI electricity generation, direct, annual
IKQOCI5AB1WR electricity generation, direct, rolling average
4C22ASCL6D56 electricity generation, indirect, rolling average
MY3DNMUDZ7PG electricity generation, life cycle, rolling average
Log in to perform calculations on this data
Name: UK_electricity_by_DEFRA
Full path: /business/energy/electricity/defra/uk
Parent Category: Electricity by DEFRA
Provenance: DEFRA