ICAEW chart of the week: UK electricity usage

24 April 2020: A dramatic decline in electricity usage confirms the scale of the economic downturn and the impact that will have on tax receipts.

Chart showing 7-day moving average electricity usage between 1 Feb and Apr 22 falling below the 5-year average.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on all of us, including in our usage of electricity as illustrated by the #icaewchartofthemonth.

For example, the seven-day moving average electricity generated as of 21 April 2020 was 531 GWh, 23% lower than the 690 GWh supplied on average in the previous five years. This is a dramatic fall, reflecting the closure of much of our high streets, most offices and many factories across the country.

Admittedly, some of the decline will be down to weather, with April in particular being much warmer than usual. However, the collapse in demand since the Great Lockdown began is dramatic, demonstrating just how much has changed in just a few weeks.

A silver lining to the current situation is a significant reduction in carbon emissions, with zero electricity generated from coal or oil power plants in recent weeks. Gas-fired power stations are currently providing only around 20% of UK energy supply, with wind, solar and hydropower together providing in the order of 50% each day. Nuclear provides a further fifth, with the balance coming from biomass (around 5% or so) and imports from France, Belgium and Netherlands (a further 5%, much of which is either from nuclear power plants or from renewable sources in any case). This is very positive news for the environment, even if a bit of a headache for the National Grid electricity system operator in managing a very different mix of generation than normal.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait quite a while to see how this translates into economic statistics, with the OBR amongst others suggesting that the economy could contract by as much as 35% in the second quarter of 2020. This will have major implications for tax receipts and government borrowing, which are rapidly moving in opposite directions.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

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