Where the UK’s Electricity Comes From

Report created and compiled by Good Energy

The research method

Because there is currently no published data to help us determine exactly where UK imports it’s fuel from to power its many fossil-fuelled and nuclear electricity generators, we’ve had to use the available data to work it out for ourselves.

So, in lieu of a having a tracking mechanism to tell us where a lump of coal or therm of gas gets used, we have determined where our fuel for our electricity generators comes from by looking at the countries we import our fuels from – and spit these proportions against the coal, gas and nuclear components of the UK’s electricity fuel mix. You can check the data we used in this analysis by clicking on the links in our explanation below – there are a few steps in the process.

  1. Firstly, UK Fuel Mix Disclosure – the electricity grid mix of where UK consumers get their electricity from – was used to form the basis of our calculations. This gives us a clear, annually-updated snapshot of exactly what proportion of coal, nuclear, gas and renewable generators are providing us with electricity.
  2. Fuels that have been imported to not fit one, specific purpose. Natural gas, for example, is used in manufacturing, burned to generate electricity and is distributed around our gas network to heat our homes and cook our food. So we have looked at the countries we import all fuel from – and split these proportionally against the coal, gas and nuclear components of the UK’s electricity fuel mix.

Where the UK’s electricity comes from

Source: Green Energy, Renewable Energy Company

Gas

This data is based on the physical imports of gas into the UK for 2010. As there’s no published information on what proportion of our gas imported from any particular country goes towards heating, manufacturing or electricity generation – we’ve assumed that the proportion of gas used for electricity generation is proportionally equal to total UK gas imports for all our energy purposes.

In addition, a great proportion of gas imported into the UK comes from specific ‘interconnection’ with the European connection network (via Belgium) and Norway, so while this gives us a picture of where we’re physically importing our gas from, it doesn’t tell us where it has originally been sourced. As an extra ‘step’ in this approach, we’ve used data for total EU gas imports and have assumed that gas flowing through the Norwegian pipeline is proportionally equal to this mix of countries.

Coal

Again it’s impossible to determine the exact end-use of each tonne of solid fuel imported, however DECC does record the specific country of import for steam coal, which is the fuel overwhelmingly used for electricity generation in the UK. Therefore we have split the steam coal import data for 2010 proportionally against the volumes imported from all countries within national data.

Uranium

National data for uranium imports is not available in the same level of detail, as that for gas and coal. Therefore world uranium production data from the World Nuclear Association has been used as a base for this aspect of the analysis. However, not all countries sell uranium to the UK, so additional exclusions have been made on the basis of known export contracts and relationships held by the World Nuclear Association. Following these exclusions, it has been assumed that UK uranium imports are split proportionally between the remaining uranium producing countries, proportionally to their overall uranium production for 2010.

Renewables

For renewable technologies such as wind and solar PV there is no imported fuel, as these electricity sources require no fuel import in operation. However some renewable electricity generation technologies, such as biomass, do have import requirements for primary fuel, which are recorded by DECC. Unfortunately, no additional data is held on the country of origin of these imports, so it has not been possible to determine the precise country of origin in this case.

The ‘unknowns’

In our final analysis we were unable to determine a source for 3.7% of the fuel used to generate electricity in the UK.

This is made up of

The ‘other’ aspect of the UK electricity fuel mix
1.7% of the UK fuel mix for electricity is listed as ‘other’, so we have been unable to perform further analysis on this aspect.

Unknown sources of gas imports
Within EU gas import data a proportion of gas is listed as being from ‘source unknown’, so we have been unable to performance further analysis on this aspect. This accounts for 1.15% of the fuel used to generate electricity in the UK.

Unknown sources of biomass imports
DECC does not record the country of origin for biomass fuel imports. This accounts for 0.85% of the fuel used to generate electricity in the UK.

Results from our survey

The majority of fuel used to generate electricity in the UK is imported from a wide variety of countries across the globe. If you’re not close to the energy industry which – let’s face it – most people are not, it is likely that this fact has passed you by. But we think that it is important, particularly in the context of the impressive renewable resource we have available here in the UK.

Where the UK’s electricity comes from

Source: Green Energy, Renewable Energy Company

So we asked YouGov to do some research about what energy users do think about it. The research found most people (71%) are concerned. And almost half (44%) of British consumers were unaware that the majority of fuel used to generate electricity in the UK is imported.

We believe the current energy set up in the UK is unsustainable and that households, businesses and communities represent the UK’s energy future. Unlike traditional fossil fuel power plants, renewable generation can vary in scale and is available to all.

Our research into the origins of the energy used in the UK and our attitudes towards its use shows some other worrying facts about our energy habits. For example, 82% of respondents claim they make efforts to cut down their electricity use (e.g. turning off the lights when not in the room, not leaving TVs on standby) in order to save money on their bill, but only a meagre 2% has reduced their electricity consumption because of the government’s campaigns, illustrating there’s a long way to go before government messages make an impact.

More positively, 41% are interested in generating their own electricity and 3% claim to be already generating their own renewable electricity and therefore reaping the environmental benefits as well as the long term financial reward of lower energy prices.

What do you think?

Were you aware of where the fuel to generate electricity comes from? Does our research make you change the way you think about your electricity? Let us know by leaving your thoughts on our research below. And watch this space, as we’ll be revealing more results from our YouGov survey over the coming weeks.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2100 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3rd – 6th February 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

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