Despite a surge in renewables and plummeting energy
use the UK remains a long way from the green energy champion it
must become if we are to reach our ambitious climate targets, new
data from the department for energy and climate change (DECC)
Today DECC published the 2013 version of its annual
energy data bible
DUKES, the digest of UK energy statistics. It’s a veritable
gold mine of fascinating stories about who’s using the most energy
and where it comes from.
We already took a
sneak peak at provisional data back in February that
showed electricity from wind on the up, but coal and gas still
dominating. Now with the help of the final stats, here are six
charts that give you the big picture of the UK’s progress towards a
greener energy future.
1) We’re using less energy than we did in the
70s even though we’re three times richer
Total UK energy use reached a peak in around
2000 then plateaued. In 2005 it started to fall, as the grey line
in the chart below shows. Since then energy use across the UK has
fallen by 13 per cent at an average rate of 1.7 per cent per
Some of that’s down to the longest recession since
the 1930s – the dip and slow recovery in GDP shown in blue – but
energy use was already falling before the crisis
DUKES table 1.1.4
Overall the UK is now three times richer than it
was in the 1970s, but despite that, energy use is at 1970s levels.
In other words we’re generating a lot more wealth for every unit of
energy we use, as the falling purple energy intensity line above
To reach its ambitious 80 per cent emissions
reduction target for 2050 the UK either needs to keep on rapidly
reducing the energy intensity of the economy – or it needs to get
much more of its energy from low-carbon sources like renewables or
2) Almost all our energy still comes from
Unfortunately, despite some progress, we
haven’t done too well on that second option. In 2013 fossil fuels
provided the vast majority – 86 per cent – of UK energy needs. Coal
(19 per cent), oil (32 per cent) and gas (35 per cent) are shown in
shades of blue in the chart below. That’s down from 90 per cent in
1990 and 96 per cent in 1970.
DUKES table 1.1.1
Low-carbon energy sources, shown in shades of
pink and purple, provided 13 per cent of total UK energy needs in
2013. Much of this came from nuclear (7.5 per cent) and bioenergy
(4.3 per cent) with renewables making up a tiny 1.5 per cent
3) We don’t make anything any more but we’re
flying a lot more often
That puts the spotlight back on reducing energy use.
So who’s using the most energy? Back when the UK had a
manufacturing base and the Austin
Allegro was the height of cool, industry used
nearly half of all energy (light blue area below). The rest was
split between homes (dark blue) and transport (shades of
DUKES table 1.1.5
Since then the bottom has dropped out of
industrial energy use as energy-intensive industries like steel
manufacturing closed down. Domestic energy use has remained
relatively steady, despite a rising population, and like total
energy use has now started to fall. We explored why that might
In contrast to falling domestic and industrial
energy use transport has grown fast and now takes the largest bite
of total energy use. That’s thanks to huge growth in road travel,
although the number of miles travelled has started to drop
recently. Another big factor has been the
rise in air travel driven by budget airlines.
This chart demonstrates why getting electric
cars on the road – there are only 10,000 today – is so essential to
hitting future climate targets.
4) Coal and gas still dominate but renewable
electricity is on the up
But just switching to electric cars won’t cut
emissions unless the electricity used to charge them comes from
low-carbon sources of power.
Overall we’re not doing too well on that front
either, as the chart below shows. Most of our electricity in 2013
came from coal (41 per cent) and gas (23 per cent), shown in blue
lines below. There are some encouraging signs here, however, with
renewable electricity production growing rapidly in recent years –
up to 12 per cent in 2013 (purple line).
Together with nuclear (pink line), low carbon
electricity accounted for 32 per cent of the total in 2013. So a
third of our electricity is low carbon.
DUKES table 5.3
5) The number of windfarms, solar panels and
biomass plants has rocketed
Why has renewable electricity output grown so
much? The answer lies in the huge surge in installed capacity of
wind, solar and biomass plants.
In the five years to 2013 onshore wind
capacity tripled (dark blue line, below) while offshore wind grew
six-fold (light blue line). Over the same period solar (purple
line) grew to 120 times its 2008 capacity, although it’s unlikely
we’ll see that staggering rate of progress
DUKES table 6.4
There was also rapid growth in the capacity of
power stations burning wood to produce electricity (pink line).
This includes coal-fired power stations like Drax in Yorkshire that
has part-converted to burn biomass instead.
shows the carbon emissions from burning biomass
can be worse than burning coal unless the wood is carefully sourced
and makes use of waste wood rather than burning whole trees. But
for now it is assumed to cut carbon.
6) Most renewable electricity comes from wind
We had better hope that wood sourcing is being
done carefully, because biomass plants produce a disproportionately
large share of the electricity generated from renewable sources
(pink line below).
That’s because biomass plants can generate power
almost all of the time. In contrast wind (blue lines) and solar
(purple line) only generate electricity when the wind blows or the
sun shines. Of the two, wind has a higher ‘capacity factor’ than
solar – which is why wind is such an important part of the
renewable electricity mix.
DUKES table 6.4
These charts show the huge scale of the
challenge if the UK is going to reach its climate goals. There will
need to be continued energy use efficiencies and we’ll need to find
a way to replace most of the 86 per cent of our energy that comes
from fossil fuels.
That will require many more wind turbines and
solar panels, and probably an electric car revolution, a shift away
from gas boilers for home heating plus some combination of biomass,
nuclear and carbon capture and storage. It’s a big