Top 3 takeaways from the 2018 UK Energy Statistics

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has just released the annual Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES). It provides detailed analysis of production, transformation, and consumption of energy in the UK in 2018.

1. UK energy production is going up, but in a good way!

  • 2018 energy production was up 2.9% on 2017. Oil production increased by 9% but served mostly to offset a decrease in oil imports. In fact, overall demand for oil fell, which follows the downward trend seen since 2004. It is currently around a third of peak production in 1999. Similarly, natural gas and coal production both fell, with coal dropping to an all time low of 2.6 million tonnes – less than a tenth of the production recorded at the start of the century!

  • So where is this increase in energy production coming from? It’s from renewables!
    • Though fossil fuels are still the dominant source of total energy supply at 79.4%, this is a record low level, whereas, the combined electricity output of wind, hydro, and solar PV rose by 12%. Bioenergy production also grew by 7.7%, driven mainly by a switch to biomass from coal at the Drax and Lynemouth power stations.
    • This helped total energy supply from renewables to hit 11% in 2018, meaning the UK is on track to hit its 2008 EU Renewable Energy Directive target of 15% by 2020.

  • This translates into an estimated drop in energy emissions by 9.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 2.4%, between 2017 and 2018.

2. Our transition to renewables will yield great co-benefits

  • The growth of renewable energy production, particularly for electricity use, is vital for ensuring not only a positive step towards achieving the UK’s newly formed 2050 net zero target, but also for re-establishing energy independence in an environmentally sustainable way. This will protect the UK from oil price shocks, geopolitical instability disrupting import channels, and improve the balance of trade.
  • Overall, energy production increased between 2017 and 2018 by 2.9%, driven by an increase in oil, wind, solar, bioenergy, and energy-from-waste.
  • However, overall, the UK also remains a net importer of energy, with the proportion imported energy remaining steady around 36%, down from a peak in 2014 of almost 50%.
    • Imports of coal, oil, and gas all rose between 2017 and 2018, but this was largely to offset the decreasing production of these fuels.

  • Renewable electricity generation also has lower energy losses from transformation than fossil fuels, and this contributed towards the small overall drop in energy demand as reliance on coal decreased.

3. We need to think big to hit net zero

  • Though the growth of renewable electricity generation is cause for environmentalists to celebrate, electricity only comprised of 17% of final energy consumption in 2018. Petroleum products made up 47.4%, and natural gas 29.2%. The remaining 6.4% was biofuel and other uses.
  • This consumption is also not concentrated in a single sector, in either distribution of fuel type or magnitude of consumption.
  • Energy consumed by the transport and domestic sectors accounted for nearly two thirds of overall energy consumption, with the remainder used by industry, commercial and public administration, and non-energy purposes (e.g. petrochemicals used in manufacturing).

  • Unsurprisingly, the transport sector overwhelmingly consumes petroleum products, while industry, domestic, and other energy users receive a high proportion of their energy from natural gas.

  • However, this information should serve to empower us, as it highlights the importance of the everyday choices we make as individuals around the energy used to power our homes and our vehicles, as well as the choices made by our businesses and local and national governments. All sectors need to work together to shift our economy to net zero emissions
  • Individuals can think about switching to zero-carbon energy tariffs and increasing their use of public transport, electric cars, and walking and cycling.
  • Business and local governments should be thinking critically about their energy use and management and should consider joining the many organisations who have already declared a climate emergency and set science-based or net zero target.

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