ICAEW chart of the week: UK electricity projections

6 November 2020: Renewables, imports and nuclear are expected to provide around 85% of UK electricity generation by 2040, but will that be good enough to achieve carbon neutrality a decade later in 2050?

UK electricity projections chart (reference scenario):
Nuclear: 48 TWh in 2008, 62 TWh in 2020, 86 TWh in 2040.
Imports: 11 TWh, 28 TWh, 74 TWh.
Renewables: 23 TWh, 125 TWh, 188 TWh.
Carbon: 297 TWh, 109 TWh, 58 TWh in 2040.

The latest official energy and emissions projections, released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 30 October 2020, now extend out to 2040 – a decade before the 2050 target set by the UK Government to reach net zero.

The #icaewchartoftheweek takes a look at the progress being made on decarbonising electricity generation, with renewables, nuclear and imported electricity (much of which comes from nuclear or renewable sources) expected to increase from around 20% in 2008 to 66% this year and to just over 85% in 2040.

Overall electricity demand is expected to fall over the first half of the coming decade as improved energy efficiency and energy conservation measures (such as better insulation) continue to offset more demand from a growing population and economy (caveats apply). Lower demand in the residential and services sectors are then expected to be outweighed by higher demand for industrial and transport, particularly the latter as electric vehicles take to the roads.

Coal has now been almost entirely eliminated from electricity generation, falling from 118 TWh in 2008 (when there was also 6 TWh from oil and 173 TWh from natural gas) to 2 TWh projected in 2020 alongside 107 TWh from natural gas. Even so, coal may remain a small part of the mix even in 2040 as part of a projected 5 TWh of electricity from carbon capture and storage (CCS) plants. This should leave just 53 TWh from low (but still not no) carbon natural gas generation to eliminate over the subsequent decade.

Unfortunately, electricity is only part of the energy picture, with the reference scenario calculated by BEIS projecting that carbon sources will provide 980 TWh of final energy consumption in 2040 outside of electricity supply and direct power from renewables. This includes the equivalent of around 370 TWh from natural gas used domestically, 250 TWh from diesel and petrol used in transport, and 160 TWh from aviation fuels.

So while there continues to be welcome progress in greening the electricity supply, achieving net zero overall is not going to be as easy.

This chart was originally published on the ICAEW website.

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.