Electricity sector in the United Kingdom

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Electricity supplied (net) 1948 to 2008[1]

The electricity sector in the United Kingdom relies mainly on fossil fuelled power and 15-20% in nuclear power and similar amounts of renewable power. Fossil fuel generator use in general and coal use in particularly is shrinking, with coal generators now only mainly being run in Winter due to pollution and costs.

In 2008 nuclear electricity production was 860 kWh pro person. In 2014, 28.1 TW·h of energy was generated by wind power, which contributed 9.3% of the UK's electricity requirement.[2] In 2015, 40.4 TW·h of energy was generated by wind power, and the quarterly generation record was set in the three-month period from October to December 2015, with 13% of the nation’s electricity demand met by wind.[3] 2015 saw 1.2 GW of new wind power capacity brought online, a 9.6% increase of the total UK installed capacity.

The United Kingdom voluntarily ended the use of incandescent lightbulbs in 2011. Between 2007 and 2012, the UK's peak electrical demand has fallen from 61.5 GW to 57.5 GW[4] The use of electricity declined 11% in 2009 compared to 2004 and respectively.

The UK 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.



The European Commission banned low efficiency general-purpose, non-directional incandescent lightbulbs from 2012, though similarly shaped higher-efficiency halogen bulbs continue to be available (although halogen cannot be considered high-efficiency when compared to Compact fluorescent lamp and LED bulbs). The United Kingdom banned them voluntarily from 2011 after Ireland in 2009.

Electricity per person and by power source[edit]

Electricity per person in the United Kingdom (kWh/ hab.) [5]
Use Production Import Import % Fossil Nuclear Nuc. % Other RE* Bio+waste Wind Non RE use* RE %*
2004 6,741 6,615 125 1.9% 4,988 1,337 19.8% 159 132 6,450 4.3%
2005 6,791 6,651 139 2.0% 4,902 1,355 20.0% 180 214 6,397 5.8%
2006 6,624 6,539 86 1.3% 5,059 1,026 15.5% 251 203 6,171 6.8%
2008 6,573 6,392 180 2.8% 5,069 860 13.1% 266 198 6,108 7.1%
2009 6,005 5,958 47 0.8% 4,411 1,120 18.7% 84* 204 138* 5,579 7.1%
* Other RE is waterpower, solar and geothermal electricity and windpower until 2008
* Non RE use = use – production of renewable electricity
* RE % = (production of RE / use) * 100% Note: EU calculates the share of renewable energies in gross electrical consumption.

Mode of production[edit]

UK electricity production by source 1980-2015[6][7][8]
External image
Current grid status Similar data

The gross production of electricity was 393 TWh in 2004 which gave the 9th position in the world top producers in 2004.[9]

The mode of production has changed over the years. During the 1960s and 70s, coal plants were built to supply consumption despite economic challenges. During the 1970s and 80s some nuclear sites were built. From the 1990s gas power plants benefited from the Dash for Gas supplied by North Sea gas. After the 2000s, renewables like solar and wind added significant capacity.[10] In Q3 2016, nuclear and renewables each supplied a quarter of British electricity, with coal supplying 3.6%.[11][12]

The 6 major companies which dominate the British electricity market ("The Big Six") are: EDF, Centrica (British Gas), E.ON, RWE npower, Scottish Power and Southern & Scottish Energy.

Gas and coal[edit]

Electricity was produced with gas 160 TWh in 2004 and 177 TWh in 2008. The United Kingdom was 4th top electricity producer from gas both in 2004 and in 2008. In 2005 the UK produced 3.2% of the world total natural gas having the 5th top position after Russia (21.8%), United States (18%), Canada (6.5%) and Algeria (3.2%). In 2009 the UK’s own gas production was less and natural gas was also imported.[9][13]

Due to reducing demand in the late-2000s recession and high gas prices, in 2011 and 2012 over 2 GW of older, less efficient, gas generation plant was mothballed.[14][15]

On several occasions in May 2016, Britain burned no coal for electricity for the first time since 1882.[16][17] Due to lower gas prices, economy of coal plants is strained, and 3 coal plants closed in 2016.[18] On 21st April 2017, the mainland grid burnt no coal to make electricity for the first complete 24 hour period.[19][20]

Nuclear power[edit]

The installed nuclear power capacity in the United Kingdom was 11 GW in 2008.[13] The production of nuclear power was 80 TWh in 2004 (2.9% of world total) [9] and 63 TWh in 2007 (2.3% of world total) [21] The production of nuclear electricity was lower in 2006 and 2008 than the actual capacity. The electricity consumption declined in 2009 compared to 2004 by 736 kWh/person when the nuclear energy was produced at nearly same volume 860 kWh/person in 2008. Further, Denmark produced more wind power per person (1,218 kWh/person) than the nuclear power produced annually per person in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2009 (860-1,120 kWh/person).[5]

Renewable energy[edit]

From the mid-1990s renewable energy began to contribute to the electricity generated in the United Kingdom, adding to a small hydroelectricity generating capacity. Renewable energy sources provided for 11.3% of the electricity generated in the United Kingdom in 2012,[22] reaching 41.3 TWh of electricity generated.

Currently, the biggest renewable source of energy in the UK is wind power, and the UK has some of the best wind resources in Europe. The UK has relatively small hydroelectricity deployment and resources, although some pumped storage exists. Solar power is rapidly growing and provides significant power during daylight hours, but total energy provided is still small. Biofuels are also used as a significant sources of power. Geothermal is not highly accessible and is not a significant source. Tidal resources are present and experimental projects are being tested, but are likely to be expensive.

Wind power delivers a growing fraction of the energy in the United Kingdom and at the beginning of January 2015, wind power in the United Kingdom consisted of 6,546 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of just under 12 gigawatts: 7,950 megawatts of onshore capacity and 4,049 megawatts of offshore capacity.[23] The United Kingdom is ranked as the world's sixth largest producer of wind power, having overtaken France and Italy in 2012.[24] Polling of public opinion consistently shows strong support for wind power in the UK, with nearly three quarters of the population agreeing with its use, even for people living near onshore wind turbines. Wind power is expected to continue growing in the UK for the foreseeable future, RenewableUK estimates that more than 2 GW of capacity will be deployed per year for the next five years.[25] Within the UK, wind power was the second largest source of renewable energy after biomass in 2013.[22]

According to Imperial College Britain could have 40% of electricity from solar power in sunny days by 2020 in 10 million homes compared to a half a million homes in start of 2014. If a third of households would generate solar energy it could equal 6% of British total electricity consumption.[26]

Power stations[edit]

External images
Map of UK power stations, 2006 Archive
Archive of UK Grid map 2012 Source
UK Grid map 2016 Archive

National Grid[edit]

400 kV power line in Cheshire

The National Grid is the high-voltage electric power transmission network in Great Britain, connecting power stations and major substations and ensuring that electricity generated anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales can be used to satisfy demand elsewhere. There are also undersea interconnections to northern France (HVDC Cross-Channel), Northern Ireland (HVDC Moyle), the Isle of Man (Isle of Man to England Interconnector), the Netherlands (BritNed) and the Republic of Ireland (EWIC).

On the breakup of the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1990, the ownership and operation of the National Grid in England and Wales passed to National Grid Company plc, later to become National Grid Transco, and now National Grid plc. In Scotland the grid split into two separate entities, one for southern and central Scotland and the other for northern Scotland, connected by interconnectors to each other. The first is owned and maintained by SP Energy Networks, a subsidiary of Scottish Power, and the other by SSE. However, National Grid plc remains the System Operator for the whole UK Grid.


The export of electricity was 1-3% of consumption between 2004-2009. According to IEA the UK was the 6th highest electricity importer, importing 11 TWh, after Brazil (42TWh), Italy (40TWh), United States (33TWh), Netherlands (16TWh) and Finland (14TWh).[13]

The UK grid is connected to adjacent European and Irish electrical grids by submarine power cables, including for links to northern France (HVDC Cross-Channel), Northern Ireland (HVDC Moyle), Republic of Ireland (East–West Interconnector), the Isle of Man (Isle of Man to England Interconnector), and the Netherlands (BritNed). There are also plans to lay cables to link the UK with Iceland and Norway (Scotland–Norway interconnector) in the future.

Electricity billing[edit]

In the UK, an electricity supplier is a retailer of electricity. For each supply point the supplier has to pay the various costs of transmission, distribution, meter operation, data collection, tax etc. The supplier then adds in energy costs and the supplier's own charge.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Digest of UK energy statistics: 60th Anniversary Report". Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  2. ^ RenewableUK News website article
  3. ^ RenewableUK. "RenewableUK – RenewableUK News – New-records-set-in-best-ever-year-for-British-wind-energy-generation". renewableuk.com. Retrieved 20 October 2016. 
  4. ^ "Peak Light Bulb". New Scientist. 4 January 2014. p. 4. 
  5. ^ a b Energy in Sweden, Facts and figures, The Swedish Energy Agency, (in Swedish: Energiläget i siffror), Table: Specific electricity production per inhabitant with breakdown by power source (kWh/person), Source: IEA/OECD 2006 T23 Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., 2007 T25 Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., 2008 T26 Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., 2009 T25 Archived January 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. and 2010 T49 Archived October 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine..
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-07-03. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-08. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  9. ^ a b c IEA Key energy statistics 2006
  10. ^ "Mapped: How the UK generates its electricity - Carbon Brief". Carbon Brief. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2016. 
  11. ^ "UK Energy Statistics, Q3 2016" (PDF). 22 December 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2016. Low carbon electricity’s share of generation accounted for a record high 50.0 per cent in the third quarter of 2016, up from 45.3 per cent in the same period of 2015, with increased generation from renewables (wind and solar) and nuclear. Coal’s share fell to 3.6% 
  12. ^ "UK hits clean energy milestone: 50% of electricity from low carbon sources". the Guardian. 22 December 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c IEA Key energy statistics 2010 pages electricity 27 gas 13,25 fossil 25 nuclear 17
  14. ^ Andreas Walstad (2 August 2011). "UK power plants mothballed on higher gas prices". National Gas Daily. Interfax. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  15. ^ "Centrica idles gas-fired plant amid low spark spreads". Argus Media. 12 March 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "Britain passes historic milestone with first days of coal-free power". Financial Times. Retrieved 19 June 2016. 
  17. ^ "Britain gets no power from coal for 'first time on record'". The Telegraph. 10 May 2016. Retrieved 19 June 2016. 
  18. ^ Countdown to 2025: Tracking the UK coal phase out 21 July 2016.
  19. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/21/britain-set-for-first-coal-free-day-since-the-industrial-revolution
  20. ^ [2] "National Grid can confirm that for the past 24 hours, it has supplied GB's electricity demand without the need for #coal generation."
  21. ^ pdf IEA Key energy statistics 2009
  22. ^ a b "Department of Energy and Climate Change: Annual tables: 'Digest of UK energy statistics' (DUKES) - Chapter 6: Renewable Sources of energy". Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  23. ^ [1]. RenewableUK – UK Wind Energy Database (UKWED)
  24. ^ "Wind power production for main countries". thewindpower.net. 
  25. ^ RenewableUK. "RenewableUK - The Voice of Wind & Marine Energy". bwea.com. 
  26. ^ UK should have 10 million homes with solar panels by 2020, experts say, Imperial College says Britain could get as much as 40% of its electricity from solar power on sunny days by decade's end 29 January 2014