Energy policy

Seven unexpected graphs about the UK’s energy sector

  • 30 Oct 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans & Mat Hope

Sometimes our understanding of what's going on in the world is at odds with the facts - on issues ranging from  teen pregnancies and immigration to levels of voter turnout and the ethnic makeup of the UK.

The energy sector is no different, it seems.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) delivered one of its now increasingly common  data dumps this morning.

We've delved through the  pile of stats to bring you seven graphs about energy in the UK that raise some questions about received wisdom in the area.

Energy bills aren't high, historically speaking

The media is fond of pointing out that households are paying more for  energy than they used to. This is true - but the data shows the cost of energy is a long way from being at historic highs.

The cost of electricity, gas and other fuels has been rising since it bottomed-out in 2004. Between 2002 and 2012 energy bills  increased by 55 per cent, after accounting for inflation. But the amount households spend on energy compared to other things is still relatively low. 

In the 1980s, energy bills represented over five per cent of a household's costs. In 2012, it was a little under 4 per cent:


Source:  DECC energy sector indicators 2013

more

Five things we learned from National Grid's Winter Outlook report

  • 28 Oct 2014, 14:05
  • Simon Evans

Newspapers are this morning saying the UK is at increased risk of blackouts. The headlines are covering an annual report from the National Grid, which insists the lights will not be going out. Energy market regulator Ofgem and the government are also lining up behind the grid to reassure the public that the lights will stay on.

So what is the document that National Grid has published today? And does it tell us what state the UK energy system is in? We take a look at five things we learned from the National Grid Winter Outlook.

Power supply margins are tighter than last year

The UK's electricity system is in a state of flux. It's changing as power stations close down as a result of old age and more stringent pollution rules. At the same time we are building lots of renewables, mainly windfarms.

During this shift in the supply base, the buffer between peak demand for power and the maximum that can be generated (the capacity margin) is expected to shrink for a few years.

This shouldn't be a surprise. We saw very similar newspaper headlines warning of 'blackouts' in both 2012 and 2013.

National Grid has been busy planning for the change in our energy system for a while. What has been a surprise this year is the number of unexpected events, including several power station fires. These have reduced generating capacity and raised the volume of worried headlines.

more

What is the emissions impact of switching from coal to gas?

  • 27 Oct 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

The US's shale gas boom is credited with helping the country cut power sector emissions 16 per cent since 2007.  Official figures released earlier this week suggest a switch from coal to gas was largely responsible for the drop.

But there are competing theories. Last week,  Greenpeace released analysis with the headline 'Renewables cutting US emissions more than gas as coal consumption drops'.  Business Green and  Thinkprogress reported the finding, amongst others.  

So why are the US's emissions falling?

Fuel 'switching'

Figuring out why the power sector's emissions change is quite hard, and relies on lots of assumptions about how the energy market works.

The US gets power mainly from coal, gas, renewables and nuclear. By analysing changes in this mix, it should be possible to work out how switching from one fuel to another affects emissions.

Data from the US's Energy Information Administration shows how much power each fuel generated over a particular timeframe.

more