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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

28.02.2013 | 11:35am
ScienceUK energy statistics show big jump in coal-fired electricity last year
SCIENCE | February 28. 2013. 11:35
UK energy statistics show big jump in coal-fired electricity last year

Last year saw a dramatic increase in the amount of UK electricity generated using coal power, preliminary figures from The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show. Coal power overtook gas to become the biggest single source of UK electricity in 2012.

Coal produced 42.8 per cent of the UK’s electricity in 2012, a rather startling rise from 2011, when it provided just 30 per cent. In 2011, gas produced 40 per cent of UK electricity – so gas and coal have basically swapped places in just a year.

Detailed government energy statistics covering 2012 won’t be published until July, but DECC has just produced a preliminary look at 2012 in UK energy statistics. The short report lays out the broad picture of how the UK generated and used energy last year.

Domestic oil and gas production is down, while a colder than average winter has pushed up energy consumption in absolute terms. Adjusted for temperatures, energy consumption fell slightly in 2012, DECC says.

Coal power produced 42.8 per cent of the UK’s electricity in 2012. Gas (about 28 per cent) and nuclear (about 20 per cent) also provided big chunks.

As the electricity generation figures suggest, demand for gas was low, as power companies burned cheaper coal to generate electricity. Ironically, coal is cheap in Europe at the moment because shale gas production in the US has made it less economic to burn coal in the states.

The figures for ‘low carbon electricity’ – covering nuclear and renewables including hydro power – aren’t broken down in detail in this report. Wind power produced 5.5 per cent of electricity in 2012, the preliminary figures show – still small, but an increase of a third on 2011.

In terms of gas supply, the UK imported a lot more gas through pipelines – up 25.9 per cent. But there was a large fall in imports of LNG (liquefied natural gas), which is imported in tankers. LNG imports were down 45.3 per cent.

In July, DECC will publish this year’s Digest of UK Energy Statistics, known affectionately as ‘DUKES’. That report will contain much more detail on 2012’s energy trends. The most recent report (which covers 2011) is available here.

And my colleague Mat explains here one important reason why coal use is going up at the moment:

One of the current EU policies is the  EU Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD). The LCPD limits operation of coal plants that don’t meet strict emissions standards, and rather than doing this, many will choose to opt out, and close. They will then only have 20,000 hours left to run.

In practice this may mean that with coal so cheap, plants which are set to close after 20,000 hours may burn through this allowance faster. This would mean they consume more coal now but close earlier.

Here’s DECC’s preliminary update in full:

Primary energy production fell by 10.7 per cent on a year earlier to 122.4 million tonnes of oil equivalent, following sharp falls in output from the UK Continental Shelf as a result of longer term decline, maintenance activity and slowdowns. This follows the record 13.2 per decline recorded last year. On an annual basis, petroleum was down by 14.3 per cent, with gas production down by 14.1 per cent. Low carbon energy production grew: nuclear output was up 2 per cent; wind output from major power producers was up by 33 per cent reflecting additional capacity; though hydro was down by 9 per cent, due to lower rainfall in the areas where the UK hydro resources are located.

UK energy production – annual growth


Primary energy consumption increased by 2.0 per cent, but on a temperature adjusted basis, was down 0.4 per cent continuing the downward trend of the last seven years. The main difference was due to 2012 being colder than 2011, with average temperatures falling from 10.7 to 9.8 degrees Celsius. As a result there was increased demand for energy for heating. Also, the switch in electricity generation from gas to coal, as detailed below, results in an increased demand for primary energy, as gas generation is thermally more efficient than coal generation. This has likely increased both the unadjusted and temperature adjusted data in 2012 by around 1 per cent, compared to what it would have been without this change. As a result, final energy consumption is estimated to have fallen by around 1.5 per cent, broadly in line with the trend since 2004.

Primary Energy Consumption


At this stage only complete annual estimates are available for major power producers, which exclude auto-producers and some renewable sources. Coal accounted for 42.8 per cent of electricity supplied in 2012, with gas accounting for 27.6 per cent and nuclear 20.8 per cent. Coal’s share of generation is at its highest level since 1996, with gas’s share at its lowest since 1996.

Electricity – share of generation from major power producers


Low carbon generation accounted for 29.6 per cent of supply, up from 26.7% in 2011. Wind generation by major power producers was up 33 per cent, and its share of generation has grown from 4.0 per cent in 2011 to 5.5 per cent in 2012. Bioenergy was up by 46 per cent and its share has grown to 1.9 per cent. Hydro was down by 9.0 per cent and its share decreased marginally to 1.4 per cent. Nuclear output was up by 2.1 per cent, but still accounted for over 70 per cent of the UK’s low carbon generation.


In 2012, UK production of gas fell by 14.1 per cent, following the record fall of 20.8 per cent in 2011. This large fall reflects continued planned and unplanned maintenance activity. Imports of gas again exceeded UK production, though production continued to exceed net imports. The net import dependency rate is estimated to have increased to 47 per cent.

In 2012 physical flows of imports were down by 7.4 per cent. There was a large increase in pipeline imports, which were up 25.9 per cent, primarily from Norway, following maintenance works in 2011; with a large fall in imports of LNG (liquefied natural gas), which were down 45.3 per cent.

UK gas demand was at its lowest level since 1995, due the decreased demand from generators.

Crude oil and petroleum products

In 2012, UK production of crude oil fell by 14.3 per cent. Crude oil imports again exceeded UK production, though the UK still exported significant quantities, with production still exceeding net imports.

In July 2012, the Coryton refinery closed. Despite this, the UK remained a net exporter of petroleum products, with net exports of 1.6 million tonnes.

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