Renewable electricity rose to a third of the UK total in 2018: new ministers

The proportion of UK electricity from renewable sources continued to rise during 2018, reaching a record 33% of the total – up by 4% from the 2017 figure – as the amount of renewable generating capacity increased to reach 44 GW. This is perhaps the most dramatic change in UK energy patterns over the year, as reported in Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2019 from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Including nuclear generation, low carbon electricity’s share of total generation increased from 50% in 2017 to a record 53%, although the output from the nuclear sector decreased slightly due to plant maintenance and outages, said BEIS.

Meanwhile, primary energy production rose in 2018, up 2.9% on a year earlier, driven by growth in output from oil, wind, solar and biomass. Once again, coal output fell to a record low level. For a longer-term view, primary energy production in 2018 is down 56% from its peak in 1999.

Final energy consumption rose by 1.1% as demand for heating increased during the ‘Beast from the East’ weather storms in February and March last year. On a temperature adjusted basis, final energy consumption rose by just 0.2%.  

Outside the electricity sector, the growth of renewables has been modest. Total renewables, as measured by the 2009 EU Renewables Directive, accounted for 11% of total energy consumption in 2018, up from 9.9% in 2017. 

Provisional BEIS estimates suggest that overall carbon dioxide emissions fell by 2.4%, to 364mn tonnes between 2017 and 2018, driven mainly by the changes in the fuel mix used for electricity generation.

Crude oil production increased by 8.9% compared to 2017 due to the opening of new and development of older fields. Production in 2018 was nevertheless down to 37% of the UK’s 1999 peak. In contrast, gross natural gas production fell by 3.3% in 2018 compared to 2017. This was the first annual decrease in four years, although the long-term pattern is one of decline, with annual production 64% below the gas peak recorded in 2000.  

Coal production was down by 15%, to a record low of 3mn tonnes in 2018, compared to 2017. 

Energy imports rose by 1.3% in 2018 but are still down by 14% on 2013’s record level. For both crude oil and gas, the key source was Norway. LNG accounted for just 15% of gas imports, up by 6.4% from 2017 and with Qatar as the main supplier. The UK remained a net importer of energy and of all main fuel types.

Coal consumption decreased by 17% in 2018 due to gas, nuclear and renewables being favoured over coal for electricity generation due to economic reasons, as well as the continued closure of coal generation capacity. 

Coal therefore accounted for 5.1% of electricity generated in the UK in 2018, down from 6.7% in 2017. The proportion generated by gas decreased, but only by 0.9% of the total to 39.5%. The nuclear share fell slightly to 19.5%. 

Electricity generated from renewable sources in the UK increased by 11% on a year earlier, to a record 110 TWh. Generation from onshore and offshore wind increased by 5.2% and 28% respectively to new records, both boosted by higher generating capacities, which offset lower wind speeds. Generation from solar rose by 12%, with hydro generation falling by 7.0%.

The electrical generating capacity of all renewable sources rose by 10% to 44 GW in 2018, with onshore wind having the highest share of capacity, just ahead of solar photovoltaics. Although, taken together, onshore and offshore wind represent nearly a half of renewable electrical capacity.

On energy use by sector, energy consumption for transport remained the same as 2017 at 57mn tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe). Consumption in this sector peaked in 2007 and decreased until 2013. Since then it has increased by 3.5 Mtoe.   

In 2018, domestic energy consumption increased by 3.4% compared to 2017 to 41 Mtoe, reflecting colder average temperatures particularly during the heating season. However, on a temperature-corrected basis, consumption was 0.1% lower in 2018. Since 2000, domestic consumption has fallen by 12% despite a 12% increase in the number of households and a 13% increase in the population. Per household, consumption has therefore fallen by 22% since 2000. 

In 2018, energy consumption in the industrial sector was 23 Mtoe, a 0.3% decrease. In the service sector, energy consumption in the private commercial sector increased by 2.0% between 2017 and 2018 to 13 Mtoe, while in the public sector it fell by 0.4% to 5.6 Mtoe.
  • Andrea Leadsom has replaced Greg Clark as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as part of ministerial changes instituted by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Meanwhile Claire Perry has relinquished her role as Energy Minister to become President of the COP26 climate talks, to be hosted in London next year. Kwasi Kwarteng is her replacement.

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