A typical offshore oil rig supplying messy polluting energy for transport and heating. The effort expended drilling for oil is several thousand times that exploring the use of renewables in action for affordable communities.





Energy in the United Kingdom describes energy and electricity production, consumption, import and export in the United Kingdom. Energy policy of the United Kingdom will describe the politics of the United Kingdom related to energy more in detail. Electricity sector in the United Kingdom is the main article of electricity in the United Kingdom.

Energy use in the United Kingdom stood at 3,894.6 kilogrammes of oil equivalent per capaticy in 2005 when comparing to a world average of 1,778.0. In 2008, total electricity consumed was 9.85 exajoules (EJ) - around 2% of the estimated 474 EJ worldwide total (while the United Kingdom accounts for under 1% of global population). Demand for electricity in 2006 was ~40GW typically, and ~60GW at peak; the total electricity consumed in 2006 was 1.25 exajoules.

The Low Carbon Transition Plan launched by the British government (Brown ministry) in July 2009 aims at 30% of renewable and of 40% of low CO2-content fuels in electricity generation by 2020. The NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority) announced winning bidders for its nuclear site auction and launched a new process for the Sellafield site to be closed by 2010. These actions are occurring as Europe is facing the consequences of the economic and financial crisis. Europe’s consumptions shrank by 5% and primary production faced a noticeable drop as well. The trade deficit was reduced by 8%, respectively due to substantial cuts in energy imports.

Government policy plays a key role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions toward avoiding dangerous climate change, and in meeting energy demand. Shifting availabilities of resources and development of technologies also change the country's energy mix through changes in costs. In 2006, the United Kingdom was ranked 5th in the World on the Environmental Performance Index- which measures how well a country carries through environmental policy - and the United Kingdom were ranked in the top 20 in the subsequent EPIs in 2008 and 2010. Great Britain returned to the top 10 in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index.

Fossil fuels

During 2008, the total energy consumed in the United Kingdom was 234.439 million tonnes of oil equivalent (= circa 9.85 EJ = 9.85*1018J).

Concerns over peak oil have been raised by high-profile voices in the United Kingdom such as Sir David King and the Industry Task-Force on Peak Oil and Energy Security. The latter's 2010 report states that "The next five years will see us face another crunch - the oil crunch. This time, we do have the chance to prepare. The challenge is to use that time well." (Sir Richard Branson and Ian Marchant).

Natural gas

United Kingdom produced 60% of its consumed natural gas in 2010. In five years the United Kingdom moved from almost gas self-sufficient (see North Sea Gas) to 40% gas import in 2010. Share of gas in TPES was almost 40% and in electricity over 45% in 2010. Underground storage was about 5% annual demand and above 10% of net imports. There is alternative fuel obligation in the United Kingdom.

Gasfields include Amethyst gasfield, Armada gasfield, Easington Catchment Area, East Knapton, Everest gasfield and Rhum gasfield.

In the Elgin platform in March 2012 gas leak about 200,000 cubic metres of gas was escaping every day. Total missed out on about £83m of potential income.

Electricity supply

With the development of the national grid, the switch to using electricity, United Kingdom electricity consumption increased by around 150% between the post war nationalisation of the industry in 1948 and the mid-1960s. During the 1960s growth slowed as the market became saturated. The United Kingdom is planning to reform its Electricity Market. It plans to introduce a capacity mechanism and contracts for difference to encourage the building of new generation.

At the beginning of March 2012, the installed capacity of wind power in the United Kingdom was 6,580 megawatts (MW), with 333 operational wind farms and 3,506 wind turbines in the United Kingdom. The country is ranked as the world's eighth largest producer of wind power. 2012 is expected to be a significant year for the offshore wind industry with potentially 5 farms becoming operational with over 1,300 MW of generating capability.

Fuel sources

During the 1940s some 90% of the generating capacity was fired by coal, with oil providing most of the remainder.

The United Kingdom started to develop a nuclear generating capacity in the 1950s, with Calder Hall being connected to the grid on 27 August 1956. Though the production of weapons-grade plutonium was the main reason behind this power station, other civil stations followed, and 26% of the nation's electricity was generated from nuclear power at its peak in 1997.

Despite the flow of North Sea oil from the mid-1970s, oil fuelled generation remained relatively small and continued to decline.

Starting in 1993, and continuing through to the 1990s, a combination of factors led to a so-called Dash for Gas, during which the use of coal was scaled back in favour of gas fuelled generation. This was sparked by the privatisation of the National Coal Board, British Gas, the Central Electricity Generating Board, the introduction of laws facilitating competition within the energy markets, and the availability of cheap gas from the North Sea. In 1990 just 1.09% of all gas consumed in the country was used in electricity generation. By 2004 the figure was 30.25%.

By 2004, coal use in power stations had fallen by 43.6% (50.5 million tonnes, representing 82.4% of all coal used in 2004) compared to 1980 levels, though up slightly from its low in 1999.

From the mid-1990s new renewable energy sources began to contribute to the electricity generated, adding to a small hydroelectricity generating capacity.

By 2004, total electricity production stood at 382.7 TWh (up 23.7% compared to 309.4 TWh in 1990), generated from the following sources:

gas – 39.93% (0.05% in 1990)
coal – 33.08% (67.22% in 1990)
nuclear – 19.26% (18.97% in 1990)
renewables – 3.55% (0% in 1990)
hydroelectric – 1.10% (2.55% in 1990)
imports – 1.96% (3.85% in 1990)
oil – 1.12% (6.82% in 1990)

UK Government energy policy expects that the total contribution from renewables should rise to 10% by 2010. The Scottish Executive has a target of generating 17% to 18% of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2010, rising to 40% by 2020.

UK 'energy gap'

In the early years of the 2000s, concerns grew over the prospect of an 'energy gap' in United Kingdom generating capacity. This is forecast to arise because it is expected that a number of coal fired power stations will close due to being unable to meet the clean air requirements of the European Large Combustion Plant Directive (directive 2001/80/EC).


In addition, the United Kingdom's remaining Magnox nuclear stations will have closed by 2015. The oldest AGR nuclear power station has had its life extended by ten years, and it is likely many of the others can be life-extended, reducing the potential gap suggested by the current accounting closure dates of between 2014 and 2023 for the AGR power stations.

A report from the industry in 2005 forecast that, without action to fill the gap, there would be a 20% shortfall in electricity generation capacity by 2015. Similar concerns were raised by a report published in 2000 by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (Energy - The Changing Climate). The 2006 Energy Review attracted considerable press coverage - in particular in relation to the prospect of constructing a new generation of nuclear power stations, in order to prevent the rise in carbon dioxide emissions that would arise if other conventional power stations were to be built.

Among the public, according to a November 2005 poll conducted by YouGov for Deloitte, 35% of the population expect that by 2020 the majority of electricity generation will come from renewable energy (more than double the government's target, and far larger than the 5.5% generated as of 2008), 23% expect that the majority will come from nuclear power, and only 18% that the majority will come from fossil fuels. 92% thought the Government should do more to explore alternative power generation technologies to reduce carbon emissions.

Plugging the energy gap

The first move to plug the United Kingdom's energy gap was the June 2006 announcement by Centrica that they would proceed to construct the conventionally gas-fired Langage Power Station.

In 2007, proposals for the construction of two new coal-fired power stations were announced, in Tilbury, Essex and in Kingsnorth, Kent. If built, they will be the first coal-fired stations to be built in the United Kingdom in 20 years.

Beyond these new plants, there is a number of options that might be used to provide the new generating capacity, while minimising carbon emissions and producing less residues and contamination. Fossil fuel power plants might provide a solution if there was a satisfactory and economical way of reducing their carbon emissions. Carbon capture might provide a way of doing this; however the technology is relatively untried and costs are relatively high. As yet (2006) there are no power plants in operation with a full carbon capture and storage system.

However due to reducing demand in the late-2000s recession removing any medium term gap, and high gas prices, in 2011 and 2012 over 2 GW of older, less efficient, gas generation plant was mothballed. In 2011 electricity demand dropped 4%, and about 6.5 GW of additional gas-fired capacity is being added over 2011 and 2012. Early in 2012 the reserve margin stood at the high level of 32%.

Regional differences

While in some ways limited by which powers are devolved, the four countries of the United Kingdom have different energy mixes and ambitions. Scotland currently has a target of 80% of electricity from renewables by 2020, which was increased from an original ambition of 50% by 2020 after it exceeded its interim target of 31 per cent by 2011. It has a quarter of the EU's estimated offshore wind potential, and may also be at the forefront of testing various marine energy systems.


Britain's fleet of operational reactors consists of 14 AGR reactors on six discrete sites, along with two Magnox units at Wylfa, and one PWR unit at Sizewell B. Overall, the installed nuclear capacity in the United Kingdom is between 10 and 11 GW. In addition, the UK experimented with Fast Breeder reactor technologies at Dounreay in Scotland, however the last fast breeder (with 250MWe of capacity) was shut down in 1994.

While nuclear power does not produce significant carbon dioxide in generation (though the construction, mining, waste handling and disposal, and decommissioning do generate some carbon emissions), it raises other environmental and security concerns. Despite this, it has enormous potential for generating electricity, when it is taken into consideration that uranium could last between a hundred years to thousands of years. However, even with changes to the planning system to speed applications, there are doubts over whether the necessary timescale could be met, and over the financial viability of nuclear power with present oil and gas prices. With no nuclear plants having been constructed since Sizewell B in 1995, there are also likely to be capacity issues within the native nuclear industry. The existing privatised nuclear supplier, British Energy, had been in financial trouble in 2004.

In October 2010 the British Government gave the go-ahead for the construction of up to eight new nuclear power plants. However, the Scottish Government, with the backing of the Scottish Parliament, has stated that no new nuclear power stations will be constructed in Scotland. In March 2012, E.ON UK and RWE npower announced they would be pulling out of developing new nuclear power plants, placing the future of nuclear power in the United Kingdom in doubt.

There was an 11% increase in the use of nuclear power in 2011, which helped to bring greenhouse gas emissions down 7% on the previous year.

Wind power

As of September 2010, the installed nameplate capacity of wind power in the United Kingdom was over 5 gigawatts (GW), representing a real terms figure of approximately 1.5GW. Wind power is the second largest source of renewable energy in the United Kingdom after biomass. Over 1 GW of new wind power capacity was brought online during 2009, 800 MW onshore and 285 MW offshore (1 GW = 1000 MW). Growth has continued in 2010 with the milestone of 1 GW of installed offshore capacity passed in April 2010, by the completion of the Gunfleet Sands and Robin Rigg wind farms.

The milestone of 5 GW of total installed capacity was reached in September 2010 with the opening of the Thanet wind farm. RenewableUK estimates that more than 2 GW of capacity will be deployed per year for the next five years.

As of 1 October 2011, there were 295 operational wind farms in the United Kingdom, with 3,415 turbines and 5,752 MW of installed capacity. A further 3,497 MW worth of schemes are currently under construction, while another 5,363 MW have planning consent and some 9,254 MW are in planning awaiting approval.

Elexon, the United Kingdom electricity balancing and settlement code company, forecast the cumulative nameplate capacity of wind farms connected to the transmission network to be 2.43 GW. On 6 September 2010 a historical peak of 1860 MW was recorded from these wind farms accounting for 4.7% of total generation at the time. Throughout 2009, an average 2.5% of United Kingdom electricity was generated by wind power with a total of around 6.7% of United Kingdom electricity coming from all renewable sources. Such was the rise in new wind energy coming on stream between April & June 2011 renewable sources accounted for 9.6% of electricity, with wind now accounting for 4.7% on average.

This is expected to rise dramatically in coming years, as a result of the British government's energy policy strongly supporting new renewable energy generating capacity. In the short to medium term, the bulk of this new capacity is expected to be provided by onshore and offshore wind power.

In 2007, the United Kingdom Government agreed to an overall European Union target of generating 20% of European Union's energy supply from renewable sources by 2020. Each European Union member state was given its own allocated target; for the United Kingdom it is 15%. This was formalised in January 2009 with the passage of the EU Renewables Directive. As renewable heat and fuel production in the United Kingdom are at extremely low bases, RenewableUK estimates that this will require 35–40% of the United Kingdom's electricity to be generated from renewable sources by that date, to be met largely by 33–35 GW of installed wind capacity.

In December 2007, the United Kingdom Government announced plans for a massive expansion of wind energy production, by conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment of up to 25 GW worth of wind farm offshore sites in preparation for a new round of development. These proposed sites are in addition to the 8 GW worth of sites already awarded in the 2 earlier rounds of site allocations, Round 1 in 2001 and Round 2 in 2003. Taken together it is estimated that this would result in the construction of over 7,000 offshore wind turbines.

As of 2013, the installed capacity of wind power in the United Kingdom was 8,445 megawatts (MW), with 397 operational wind farms and 4,414 wind turbines.

Energy research

Historically, public sector support for energy research and development in the United Kingdom has been provided by a variety of bodies with little co-ordination between them. Problems experienced have included poor continuity of funding, and the availability of funding for certain parts of the research-development-commercialisation process but not others. Levels of public funding have also been low by international standards, and funding by the private sector has also been limited.

Research in the area of energy is carried out by a number of public and private sector bodies:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds an energy programme spanning energy and climate change research. It aims to "develop, embrace and exploit sustainable, low carbon and/or energy efficient technologies and systems" to enable the United Kingdom "to meet the Government’s energy and environmental targets by 2020". Its research includes renewable, conventional, nuclear and fusion electricity supply as well as energy efficiency, fuel poverty and other topics.

Since being established in 2004, the UK Energy Research Centre carries out research into demand reduction, future sources of energy, infrastructure and supply, energy systems, sustainability and materials for advanced energy systems.

The Energy Technologies Institute, expected to begin operating in 2008, is to 'accelerate the development of secure, reliable and cost-effective low-carbon energy technologies towards commercial deployment'.

In relation to buildings, the Building Research Establishment carries out some research into energy conservation.

There is currently international research being conducted into Fusion power. The ITER reactor is currently being constructed at Cadarache in France. The United Kingdom contributes towards this project through membership of the European Union. Prior to this, an experimental Fusion reactor (the Joint European Torus) had been built at Culham in Oxfordshire.

Energy efficiency

The United Kingdom government has instituted several policies designed to increase energy efficiency. These include the roll out of smart meters, the Green Deal, the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme and Climate Change Agreements.

In tackling the energy trilemma saving energy is the cheapest of all measures. Guardian pointed out in 2012 that by 2050, Germany projects a 25% drop in electricity demand: the UK projects a rise of up to 66%. MP and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey pointed out in November 2012 that a modest 10% reduction in 2030 means five fewer power stations and £4bn cut from bills.

The UK government has efficiency measures to cut the UK's energy use by 11% by 2020, that enable to replace 22 UK power stations while providing a major boost to the economy and living standards.





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