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The UK Energy Mix

energy iconA great deal has changed since the year of my birth, 1970.  The Beatles had only just broken up, the thrashed out chords of punk rock were yet to be heard, and the ‘net’ was something your nan used to fix up her hair. And the energy industry has also changed beyond recognition.  Phrases like ‘fuel poverty’ were yet to be coined, and the hyper-awareness that now surrounds energy usage - and pricing - was something for the presenters of Tomorrow’s World. Of course there was the oil crisis of the early 1970s and interestingly, petrol remains one of the only fuels that has been used fairly consistently through the intervening 40 or so years.  Our love for the car has not diminished, even if our love for the mullet hairstyle and flared trousers has (thank god). However, there has been a massive reduction in our use of other fossil fuels, notably the running down of the coal mining industry (remember the miners’ strikes of the 1980s?) and the UK’s coal-fired power stations, and the use of furnace gas and coke in the generation of electricity.  Put simply, in 1970 we used 57 million tonnes of oil in coal-manufactured fuel; in 2012, we use three million.  In 1970 two thirds of electricity came from coal; last year it was half.  So use of coal has dropped dramatically, as has oil, dropping in the same period from 13 million tonnes to 780,000 tonnes.

Renewable energy on the rise

You’re probably thinking… OK, we don’t use coal… but my lights are still on, and Corrie’s on the telly, as ever.  Indeed, and much of the shortfall has been made up by the use of natural gas instead of coal, with the North Sea gas industry evolving through the 1970s.  The Department of Energy and Climate Change (the DECC) have predicted that other renewable sources such as solar power, and wind power, along with nuclear, will continue to plug this hole in the energy market.  This will fundamentally alter the way we manage our energy use in this country in the coming decades, contributing nearly half of the remaining electricity needed to keep the kettle on in the UK. Approaching seven million more people have joined the population of the UK since I made my own addition to the numbers in 1970.  However interestingly, we actually use less energy now than we did back then - 12% less domestically, whilst usage in the commercial sector is an astonishing half of what it once was.  The causes are multiple – the decline of industry, for instance – but principally, is the result of efficiencies both in the production and use of energy. This brings me to an important, final point.  As long as we continue our awareness of diminishing resources, and implement efficiencies, the DECC predicts we will continue to balance the books with the concurrent increases in population.  So even by 2030, when I can start to think about retirement (well… at least think about it), the UK will still use less energy than it did in the year I was born. And that is an essential consideration – that even in my late middle age I will still be able to switch on my antique iPod, Skype my grandkids and watch the Arsenal on Match of the Day, with that lovely, avuncular presenter, Jacky Wilshere.  So let’s all turn the lights out when they’re not needed… and make sure that they will always come on when they are…      

Published by Utility Helpline on (modified )