An issue that we hear about increasingly is energy security. The oxymorons in government broke off a bit of DBEIS (they liked to call it “Bays” rather than “debase” for some reason) to form DESNZ, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, whose titular motives are firmly at cross purposes. The mooted successor is supposedly DUNCE, the Department for Unicorns and No-Carbon Energy. (Whenever I see DESNZ written down, my brain makes a connection to the word “denazify,” but that’s just me I guess.) My advice to our government is that renaming things generally does not help. It just confuses everyone. MAFF survived for a long time (50 years?) before there was DEFRA. After that, departments have split and merged and been renamed at an accelerating rate, almost as if making acronyms was their ultimate purpose. From DEFRA was born DECC, which gave rise to BEIS, and now Denazify, I mean DESNZ. But I digress. What about the actual stats? These are as the previous edition in this series taken from Energy Trends tables available here.

1. Energy security; import dependency

Since 2010, DECC and its successors have reported statistics on the UK’s import dependency. How much of our energy are we reliant on other countries for, and how has this changed over time? Well, we flipped from a net exporter to a net importer in 2003:

After 2013, the worst year (so far) when we depended on imports for 48% of our energy, things have settled down to a stubborn mid to high 30s percent.

Another way to look at this is to have exports and imports on the same figure. The net is closely similar to the import dependency percentage in the form of the graph.

Energy demand has not gone up; in fact it has gone down. Our increasing demand for imported energy came not from a rapacious hunger for more, but from a withering of home-grown production – coupled with an overall decline in energy use. From 2001, the consumption of energy in the UK has gone down quite markedly (-25% ish). Some might call this a success story based on improved efficiency. I think it is more likely a tragedy of deindustrialisation.

In fact if you look at the energy consumption by sector over the past half century, it’s clear that energy use in industry has gone down quite markedly. It is now at about a third of the level it was in 1970. Domestic consumption meanwhile has stubbornly resisted attempts to cut it. Perhaps those attempts are bearing fruit for individual dwellings, but there are now more dwellings, so the net decrease is small.

2. Fossil fuel dependency

The other critical indicator of our energy system’s performance is supposedly our dependence on fossil fuels. Two statistics are presented in Energy Trends: the “low carbon” share of energy, and the “fossil fuel dependency” of energy.

The two proportions do not add up to 1, because net imports of leccy and the contribution of “non biodegradable waste” are not included in either.

Those with an eagle eye might be thinking that there is something missing even so. That certainly seems to be the case: here, burning woodchips and waste for electricity counts as low carbon. Together they make up about 10% of overall energy consumption in the UK. So depending on whether you believe they are low carbon sources of energy, the low carbon share is either 20.1% (DESNZ’s preferred figure), or 11.0% (excluding energy from waste and bioenergy).

It is possible to argue the toss on whether burning rubbish and/or woodchips is “low carbon.” I don’t think it is, since it emits carbon dioxide at the point of generation – that’s fairly obvious. The other low carbon generators like wind turbines might have plenty of carbon dioxide emissions along the way, but when they actually turn wind into leccy, they don’t produce any.

So to my way of thinking at least, the UK’s energy system is 11% of the way to Net Zero.

There is of course another minor issue, which is that the embodied carbon dioxide in imported goods is not counted as energy. However, it used energy in its creation, and that energy was unlikely to be “low carbon.”

3. Dispatchable vs. Non-Dispatchable Electricity

One factor that the stats bods at DESNZ do not find time to dwell on in their time series is how our electricity generating mix has evolved towards weather-dependent sources. The following figure shows that we are increasingly dependent on the whims of Aeolus for our juice. Non-dispatchable is wind and solar; hydropower is counted as dispatchable.


As the North Sea gas fields have begun to deflate, our dependence on imports of energy has risen to worrying levels. We have also made little progress towards “decarbonisation”, unless you count burning trees as a low carbon enterprise. I find myself wondering, if so little has been achieved after so much pain: will we ever see the farthest shore?

Featured image

Dall.E: A pylon being struck by lightning


  1. Jit,

    Thank you for a clear and easily understandable summary of the problems with the agenda.

    I find it deeply worrying that those in charge (and those who want to replace them in order to be in charge themselves) all seem to believe the arrant nonsense that expensive, unreliable and unpredictable energy which is destabilising the grid and which can be compromised by bad actors attacking the cables from offshore wind farms equates to energy security. And either they really do believe it or they’re culpably dishonest. Since I like to attribute positive rather than negative motives to people, I suspect (and fear) that they really do believe it, even though it takes some heroic assumptions to get to that belief. Here’s an example of an energy minister in action:

    “Lower electricity prices not too far off, energy minister claims”

    …Visiting the SSEN converter construction site at Kergord on Thursday, UK energy minister Andrew Bowie said work to reform the system that sets the price for wholesale electricity was well underway.

    The junior minister with responsibilities for nuclear and networks said the government had stepped in to cap the price for electricity and promised that energy prices would come down over coming years – although he was unwilling to give an exact timeframe…

    …He added: “Moving forward we have to come up with a way of moving away from a situation where we have fantastic renewable energy which should be a lot cheaper and electricity prices that are not coupled to the gas price.

    “This is at the top of priorities for the government to get on with.

    “As we wean ourselves off expensive and the wildly fluctuating price for oil and gas, we will see an overall decrease in bills.

    “If we get all we need to do done in the tight timescale that we set ourselves, then we could in this country have the cheapest, and cleanest, electricity in Europe.”..

    …He added: “If we are going to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, and we are going to get to this greener future, and we are going to get cheaper bills, and we are going to become more energy independent, all of which I think is really important, then we have to build the infrastructure to allow us to do that.”

    Absolute twaddle, IMO.


  2. A great article, thanks Jit.

    Energy storage is a key issue relating to Energy Security & Fossil Fuel Dependence.

    Britain has just 29GWh of electricity storage capacity.

    We’ve 40,000GWh of natural gas storage capacity, plus direct connections to many off-shore gas fields.

    We also have a legal obligation for strategic Emergency Oil Stocks.

    “6.1. The UK’s obligation aligns with the EU obligation as defined in the Directive. This requires MS to hold stocks to cover the Crude Oil Equivalent of either 61 days of average daily inland consumption (“Inland Consumption”), or 90 days of average daily net imports.

    6.2. As the UK is a large producer of oil within the EU, its obligation is currently set in terms of the requirement to hold 61 days of Inland Consumption (the relevant calculation is set out in Annex 2 of the Directive).”

    More info here – with various conditions and variances:

    Click to access Guidance_for_Stakeholders_version_FEBRUARY_2015.pdf

    I’m unsure how much firewood Drax stores, but if push comes to shove, we’ve still plenty of trees available if the enviros permit them to be felled.


  3. **Mods**

    A couple of minutes ago I posted a reply that may be trapped in spam! (It had 2 or 3 links)

    I’ve since refreshed the page a few times.

    Is there any WD-40 available to release it from the WordPress prison? 😀


  4. Ron, I presume “renewables” includes burning trees? I wonder how the renewable generation splits between wind/solar/burning trees? Something else to look up.

    Mark, the minister is clueless, but he can say what he likes – there is no-one to challenge him, and when the promised savings fail to materialise, he will be long gone – or else find some other way to blame our obsession with fossil fuel.

    Joe, replacing that gas storage with batteries is likely to be cost and materials prohibitive, if not impossible. Another sum for another day. But don’t worry, it will all be fine, if we keep saying it will; probably while whipping our shoulders with a bundle of birch twigs.

    Liked by 1 person

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