UK energy imports rise to 1970s levels as N. Sea oil output falls

Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics, 2016, DBEIS
Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics, 2016, DBEIS. Note: Dark blue bars represent UK energy imports

The UK is consuming less energy than it did in 1998 and more of the energy we are consuming is coming from renewable sources.

But, at the same time, the decline in North Sea oil and gas production has meant the UK has become increasingly dependent on imports of energy.

According to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics, the 17% fall in the amount of energy used by the UK between 1998 and 2015 may be explained by:

  • the increased use of energy-efficient technologies by households and firms
  • government policies designed to reduce energy consumption
  • a decline of UK manufacturing, especially in energy-intensive industries

At the same time, the percentage of energy coming from renewable and waste sources (such as wind, hydro power and biomass) has risen from 1% of total UK energy consumption to 9%.

Despite the overall fall in UK energy consumption and the increasing use of renewable and waste sources, the UK’s reliance on imported energy has returned to the levels last seen around the mid-to late-1970s.

In recent years our reliance on imported energy has been on an upward trend but it has now fallen from its recent peak in 2013.

All EU countries imported more energy than they exported in 2014. In terms of rankings, of the 28 EU countries the UK was the 12th most dependent on foreign sources of energy; less reliant than Germany and Italy but more reliant than Sweden and the Netherlands.

But since 1998 the UK has gone from being a net exporter to a net importer of energy.

In 2015 the main types of imported fuel were crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products (for example, petrol and diesel). We also imported electricity and coal and other types of solid fuel (like wood) in smaller amounts.

In 2015 a third of the UK’s fuel imports were crude oil, and half of these crude oil imports came from Norway.

Norway is a key import partner for crude oil due to the pipeline network that runs between Norway and the UK.

However, the proportion of imported crude oil coming from Norway has fallen in recent years.

Instead more is coming from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which is made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. In 2015, 36% of crude oil imports came from these countries.

Natural gas made up around 29% of the UK’s fuel imports in 2015 with Norway again being a key import partner for this type of fuel.

Most of the gas imported into the UK comes through pipelines laid underneath the sea bed. Pipelines with Norway and the Netherlands accounted for 61% and 7% of our 2015 gas imports respectively.

The remaining gas imports came to the UK as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) with LNG from Qatar making up 29% of the UK’s gas imports in 2015.

Traditionally the UK has exported more petroleum products than it has imported but the closure of the Coryton and one of the Milford Haven refineries has led to a reduction of UK exports of petroleum products. Consequently in 2013 the UK imported more of these products than it exported for the first time since 1973.

In 2015 the UK imported 9.5 million tonnes more petroleum products than it exported – the highest since the 1984-85 miners’ strike which caused the UK to import petroleum products for power generation.

Coal and other solid fuels made up 10% of the UK’s energy imports in 2015 with Russia being our biggest import partner for these types of fuel. Most of the coal the UK imports is used for electricity generation. The other main type of solid fuel the UK imports is wood.

It might seem strange but the UK does actually import electricity that is created elsewhere. Imports of electricity made up 1% of our fuel imports in 2015. This electricity is imported via interconnectors and comes mainly from France and the Netherlands.

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