UK energy mix: Where does our power come from?

Left: PA, centre: Getty, right: Getty The UK's energy mix is set to change dramatically over the next 20 years

The energy we produce underpins pretty much everything we do.

Without it, there would be no artificial light, no long-distance communication, no mass transport or large-scale manufacturing. Facebook and Twitter would not even exist.

But how much of it do we use, and where does it come from?

In fact, we consume less energy in the UK today than we did in 1970, and this despite an extra 6.5 million people living here.

The reason is very simple - we are more efficient both in producing energy and using it. The rise of the less energy-intensive service sector at the expense of industry has also played a part.

Households use 12% less, while industry uses a massive 60% less. This is largely offset by a 50% rise in energy use in the transport sector, due to the huge rise in the number of cars on the road - more than 27 million today compared with 10 million in 1970. The big increase in the number of flights is another important factor.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) forecasts that energy efficiencies will continue to offset population growth, so that we will use about the same amount of energy in 2030 as we do today. In other words, the UK will use less energy in 2030 than it did in 1970.

Total UK energy consumption

The major change in the make-up of our energy consumption is the rapid decline in the use of coal and fuels made from it, such as coke and blast furnace gas.

In 1970, we used almost 57 million tonnes of oil equivalent in coal and manufactured fuels. Last year, we used less than 3 million tonnes. Bear in mind, however, that we are talking here about the primary source of the energy we consume - coal, oil and gas are also used to generate electricity (see below).

The void left by the fall in coal use has been filled largely by a rapid rise in the use of natural gas and, to a lesser extent, an increase in electricity usage.

By contrast, the use of petrol has remained pretty consistent throughout.

Breakdown of energy consumption

But to get a full picture of where all our power comes from, we also need to look at how electricity is generated.

And here the change in energy mix has been more dramatic. In 1970, coal accounted for about two-thirds of all electricity. Last year, it accounted for less than half, although for a number of years prior to that it made up one-third.

Apart from a sharp dip in the mid 1980s because of the miners' strike, coal use fell most dramatically during the 1990s. It has actually made something of a comeback in the past four years as the price has fallen, in part due to cheap imports from the US.

Oil use has also fallen sharply, from more than 13 million tonnes in 1970 to just 780,000 tonnes last year.

The big fall in coal and oil use in the 1990s was because of the so-called dash for gas, which was underpinned by cheap North Sea gas and the privatisation of the electricity market.

The eagle-eyed among you might notice the amount of electricity in the chart below is much greater than that shown in the chart above. This is because the chart below refers to the amount of primary energy sources that go into generating electricity, whereas the figures above represent final consumption.

For fossil fuels, the conversion efficiency of power stations is about 40%-65%, depending on the fuel type - in other words, only half the energy stored in the primary fuel ends up as electrical energy. On top of this, power stations consume some energy themselves, while more still is lost during transmission over the national grid.

Breakdown of sources of electricity

Despite the recent resurgence of coal, DECC expects its use in electricity generation to fall sharply over the next 10 years.

But it does expect coal and gas-fired power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) - designed to siphon off CO2 and bury it underground - to start producing electricity in 2017. Some would argue this is rather optimistic given the fact there are no large-scale, fully operational CCS stations in the UK.

In the short term, DECC believes natural gas and renewables - such as wind and solar - will take up the slack, with renewables taking an ever greater share over the next 20 years. By 2030, it expects renewables to be by far the biggest source of energy used in electricity generation, making up about 40% of the overall mix.

In the late 2020s, nuclear is also set to contribute more as the UK's new generation of nuclear power stations comes online.

So we may still be using the same amount of energy in 2030 as we were in 1970, but we'll be generating it in very different ways.

Projected sources of electricity

Again, you may notice the scale on the projections chart does not match that on the historical chart. This is because the former shows the volume of primary energy sources going into the power station, whereas the latter shows equivalent volumes coming out of the station. That's just the way DECC produces its figures.

More on This Story

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    10:56: Tesco inquiry Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    "The fact that the inquiry will investigate three years of accounts will concern investors as it could reveal further evidence that the problems go back further than initially thought. The FRC's arsenal if any wrong-doing is found is formidable. It can impose unlimited fines on PwC, it can demand unlimited costs and it can strike off any individual found to have behaved improperly."

     
  2.  
    10:46: Banking's reputation

    The Bank of England has urged banks to go further than "stress testing" to regain their customers' confidence. This from the latest Financial Policy Committee minutes: "Committee members also noted that recent misconduct and other operational failings had highlighted that rebuilding confidence in the banking system would require more than financial resilience... The Committee judged that strong, effective and well-informed management and governance arrangements would be essential to rebuild confidence in the banking system."

     
  3.  
    Via Twitter James Cook Scotland Correspondent, BBC News

    "Shoppers rescued from flooded Asda in Kilmarnock"

    East Ayrshire Police
     
  4.  
    10:20: Tesco inquiry

    Our business editor points out that the Financial Reporting Council only has power over its members - i.e. auditors, which in Tesco's case were PwC. However, the FRC can ask Tesco to assist in the investigation.

     
  5.  
    Via Twitter Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    "FRC's inquiry will include PWC's auditing of Tesco's accounts as well as the preparation of those accounts"

     
  6.  
    Breaking News
  7.  
    09:55: Scotland's budget
    North Sea Oil

    The lead in the Financial Times is a suggestion that Scotland may have been saved from a crisis in its public finances by voting "no" in the referendum on independence. It says projections by the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that had Scotland voted "yes", the falling oil prices would have led to its North Sea oil revenues slumping to just one-fifth of Holyrood's preferred forecasts in the country's first year of independence.

     
  8.  
    09:40: Snow-plough parents
    Skiing

    The Times highlights what it says is a new trend for well-heeled British parents: hiring private tutors to accompany them on family skiing trips. This apparently allows teenagers to cram for forthcoming exams, while still enjoying some action on the piste. The paper says it brings fresh meaning to the term "snow-plough parents" - those over-protective parents, bent on removing every obstacle in their offspring's path.

     
  9.  
    09:25: Spanish tax
    Cristina

    A judge in Spain has ordered that Princess Cristina de Borbon, the sister of the Spanish King, be tried on charges of tax fraud. It will be the first time a member of the Spanish royal family appears in the dock.

     
  10.  
    09:10: Facebook friends Russia
    Navalny

    On its front page, The Independent reports that Facebook has been accused of giving in to censorship after it apparently blocked access to a protest page on its site - under pressure from the Kremlin. A former US ambassador to Russia describes it as a "horrible precedent". According to The Daily Telegraph, Facebook has declined to comment on the suggestion that it stopped Russian users from viewing a page, rallying support for one of President Putin's most prominent opponents.

     
  11.  
    08:55: UK jobs Radio 5 live

    The employers' organisation, the CBI, says its latest survey suggests that half of its members plan to take on more staff next year. "Skills are at a premium in lots of areas," says CBI's director for employment and skills, Neil Carberry. "In fact one of the things we found in this year's survey is the biggest worry now for companies in their broadly rosy picture is whether they can get the skills they need to keep growing."

     
  12.  
    08:45: Markets update

    The main European markets are all looking rather chirpy this morning. Gains for oil firms, including Tullow Oil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP are driving the FTSE up 1% to 6,608. That's partly because Brent Crude has risen by 2% to $62.24 a barrel. In Germany, the Dax is up 0.9% to 9872, while in France, the Cac-40 is up 1.2% to 4293.

     
  13.  
    Cranking up Lada 08:28: Via Email Tony Higgins Lada owner

    "We had a Lada Niva. We bought it when we moved to a Lancashire hill farm in 1993. It was great. The early years were bad winters but the Lada coped very well. It was like a crab both on and off road, permanent 4WD. No power steering so hard work."

     
  14.  
    08:12: Pull over, Uber
    Xiaomi

    Uber may have been valued at $40bn, but one Chinese tech firm could now be worth an estimated $45bn, despite being relatively unknown outside Asia. The WSJ reports that smartphone and tablet maker Xiaomi, whose polished branding and devoted fan base is reminiscent of Apple's, has overtaken Samsung in China, but faces several challenges in expanding into India and beyond.

     
  15.  
    07:54: Cranking up Lada

    So, on to some of those Lada jokes. What do you call a Lada with a sun roof? A skip. What do you call a Lada with a sunroof and twin exhausts? A wheelbarrow. Etc. Send us your favourite Lada jokes: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk and we will publish the best. Or if you've driven a Lada, and think they get a bad rap, let us know.

     
  16.  
    07:49: Cranking up Lada
    Lada

    The New York Times reports that the Kremlin is seeking to revive Russia's last major Soviet brand - the carmaker Lada. It has recruited Swedish-American Bo Inge Andersson, previously a vice president at General Motors. Lada, historically the butt of many jokes, still accounts for a third of all cars in Russia, and as foreign companies like Audi and Jaguar Land Rover suspend sales in the country due to the plummeting rouble, the utilitarian company could return to strength.

     
  17.  
    07:35: B&Q China
    bnq

    Kingfisher says it will flog its controlling 70% stake in B&Q China to Wumei Holdings for £140m. It opened its first B&Q in the country in 1999.

     
  18.  
    07:25: Oil blessing?

    The Guardian's leader takes a contrarian stance on falling oil prices, which have been widely welcomed by Western consumers. "Oil has dipped 40%, pessimists fear, because the world no longer expects a return to economic full pelt," it argues. "Europe, Japan and - relative to its own vigorous standards - China, have all been looking anaemic this year. Like low blood pressure after a heart attack, then, cheap oil should arguably be regarded not as a sign of rude health, but rather as a consequence of malaise."

     
  19.  
    07:12: Budget Samsung
    Samsung

    $100 for a Samsung smartphone? CNBC reports the South Korean company is entering the increasingly competitive budget handset market, in a bid to sell more phones in India, where many people still use simple phones. The new handset will run Samsung's own Tizen software.

     
  20.  
    06:58: Rates Radio 5 live

    The Bank of England's Martin Weale adds that he is optimistic about the year ahead. More money to spend from cheaper oil will help. He's on the committee that helps decide the key interest rate. Will it rise this year? He's careful not to second-guess his colleagues on that one.

     
  21.  
    06:46: Santa rally? Radio 5 live
    santa

    Will there be a so-called Santa rally this year? A rise in markets in the days around Christmas? Brenda Kelly from IG says you see one in almost nine out of every 10 years since the '80s.

     
  22.  
    06:28: Rates Radio 5 live

    The Bank of England's Martin Weale has been telling Wake Up to Money why he's been voting for interest rates to move off the record low of 0.5%. "It isn't only that unemployment has been falling - at least until recently extremely rapidly. It's also that when I go and visit businesses throughout the country I find they're talking of pay increases in a way quite different from what I was hearing early in the year certainly this time last year."

     
  23.  
    06:16: Markets Radio 5 live

    Brenda Kelly from IG is Wake Up to Money's markets guest. They are talking about the falling oil prices. "A lot of it is down to a glut of supply and Saudi Arabia wants to keep market share," she says. Saudi's breakeven price is only a few dollars per barrel.

     
  24.  
    06:10: Christmas spending Radio 5 live

    Mark Barnett, UK & Ireland president of Mastercard, is on Wake Up to Money, talking about Christmas shopping habits. What else? People have returned to luxury goods, he said. Holidays and furniture are down a little bit though.

     
  25.  
    06:04: Hacking 2.0
    Kim Jong

    The global cyberwar that dominated headlines last week shows no signs of abating. Hackers have infiltrated South Korea's nuclear power provider, and posted schematics of nuclear reactors and private personal records online. It's not clear whether the same group that attacked Sony Pictures is responsible.

     
  26.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Morning! Get in touch. Tell us what you think. Email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on Twitter @BBCBusiness

     
  27.  
    06:00: Joe Miller Business Reporter

    Good morning, and festive greetings all round. In a week when the business world is winding down for Christmas, we'll bring you all the news that's sneaking in the back door, and much more besides.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.