UK electricity generation hits 25-year low

A new report from climate analysts Carbon Brief shows record lows for per-capita generation and record highs for renewables.

Around 335TWh of electricity was generated in the UK in 2018, according to the Carbon Brief report which analysed data from BM Reports, Sheffield Solar and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

The figure is the lowest since 1994 and shows a continuing downward trend since generation peaked at 398TWh in 2005.  There was also good news for renewable generation, which contributed 33% of the UK total last year, taking low-carbon (including nuclear) generation to 53%.

The data shows that the UK has saved 103TWh relative to constant per-capita generation, based on predictions if generation had remained at 2005 levels.  Overall, the amount of electricity generated per person has fallen by 24% since 2005 and is at its lowest level since 1984.

Bucking the trend

The trend also shows a ‘decoupling’ of electricity generation from UK real GDP which, according to Carbon Brief, breaks with traditional economic thinking that electricity use grows in line with GDP.  In fact, since 1980, the UK’s GDP has grown exponentially, but electricity generation has fallen away. 

The report admits that identifying the exact reasons for this ‘decoupling’ is difficult.  However, it highlights a combination of energy-specific elements and broader economic developments as having an impact on generation.

Amongst the energy-specific reasons, energy-efficient lighting, more rigorous product energy efficiency regulations and more environmentally conscious consumers are cited.  Rising energy prices, along with the 2008 financial crisis and additional cost of government climate and social policies are amongst the economic developments identified.

According to the report, the UK is not alone in this ‘decoupling’ trend. For many developed nations, energy demand has plateaued or fallen away as their economies move towards service and high-value manufacturing sectors and away from more traditional, energy-intensive industries.

Renewables

The report also showed that renewable energy is growing exponentially.  Offshore wind capacity almost doubled in 2018, with solar generation up by 11% to 13TWh. Biomass generation showed a 13% increase last year to 36TWh – helped by the conversion of former coal plants in Northumberland and Yorkshire – although biomass subsidies are due to end in 2027 in an effort to reduce generation from burnt fuels. 

Overall, UK renewable generation has increased by 95TWh since 2005 and, according to Carbon Brief, new figures are set to show that the combination of electricity reduction and the rise in renewables have been the two most significant factors in cutting the UK’s CO2  emissions.