Climate change and sustainable energy have generated an increasing amount of  media, public and political debate in the UK during recent years.

This article, part of a series of UK Perspectives providing an overview of the nation over the last three decades, presents some key statistics relating to national energy and emissions trends.

1. Transport is the UK’s biggest energy consumer

Energy consumption by final user1 (energy supplied basis) for the industry, transport and domestic sectors, UK, 1980 to 2013

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In 1988, transport became, and remained, the largest energy consumer. In 2013, it accounted for more than a third (38%) of total energy consumption – compared to a quarter (25%) in 1980.

In contrast, industry – accounting for the largest share (34%, or over one third) of the UK’s total energy consumption in 1980 – had fallen to 17% by 2013. This is in-line with its reduced UK economic share, combined with industrial processes becoming more energy efficient.

Despite the increase in the number of UK households over time, domestic consumption has remained relatively constant – likely a result of improved energy efficiency. However, since the main driver of domestic energy consumption is heating, year on year fluctuations have generally occurred in accordance with seasonal weather conditions.

Total UK energy consumption2 was highest from 2000 to 2005 at around 160,000 kilotonnes of oil equivalent (ktoe). Of this, industry, transport and domestic consumption totalled almost 140,000 ktoe. The three most recent years of data have shown the lowest level of final energy consumption in the UK since the mid 1980s.

2. The UK imports nearly half its energy supply

Net import dependency is the proportion of the UK’s energy supply that comes from imports. It is calculated by dividing net energy imports (imports minus exports) by the total amount of energy used.

Energy import dependency, UK, 1980 to 2013

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A number of factors determine the amount of energy the UK imports, including energy consumption, production and the price of imports compared to the price of domestic production.

In 2013, the UK imported more energy than it exported – with its dependency level increasing to 47% owing to an ongoing decline in domestic oil and gas production. This meant nearly half of the UK’s net energy supply came from imports, the highest level since 1974. This was true for all main fuel types, such as coal and gas. However, the UK did remain a net exporter of some products – including petrol.

The UK’s dependency on energy imports has fluctuated over time. In the early 1980s, the UK became a net exporter of energy after development of oil and gas production in the North Sea. Output fell back in the late 1980s following the Piper Alpha disaster, with the UK temporarily regaining a position as a net exporter in the mid 1990s. However, North Sea production peaked in 1999, and the UK returned to being a net energy importer in 2004 – where it has remained since.

3. Coal and gas are the main fuels used for UK electricity generation

Electricity supplied3 by fuel type, UK, 1980 to 2013

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Coal and gas have been the main fuels used in the UK’s electricity generation since 1997. Although coal currently generates the largest amount of electricity, proportions have fluctuated over time, largely in-line with prices. Nuclear power has declined since its peak in 1998, corresponding with the closure of a number of nuclear reactors.

Renewable energy, in contrast, has grown steadily since 1980 – with renewable energy sources in 2013 accounting for 15% of total UK electricity generation. Of this, nearly 60% came from wind and solar power.

4. The UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are decreasing

The UK has both international and domestic targets for reducing GHG emissions. The 2008 Climate Change Act established the world’s first legally binding emission target of reducing GHG emissions in the UK by at least 80% (from the 1990 baseline) by 2050.

Carbon dioxide is responsible for the largest amount of GHG emissions, accounting for 82% of the total in 2013.

Emissions of greenhouse gases4, UK and crown dependencies5, 1990 to 2013

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  • Total UK GHG emissions have dropped by 30% since 1990.
  • Total UK carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by around 22% since 1990.

A number of factors have contributed to the reductions in emissions, including improvements in energy efficiency, investment in low carbon technology, carbon budgets and the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).

Conclusion: adapting to change

The way the UK sources and consumes energy has changed over time. Currently, more energy is imported than exported, and the transport sector has overtaken industry to become the largest consumer of energy. Meanwhile, coal and gas remain the main fuels used for electricity generation, though renewables are on the rise.

It is important that the UK is able to adapt to these kinds of ongoing changes and maintain its future energy security for many reasons, including meeting emissions targets and environmental protection – as well as economic prosperity.


  1. Energy consumption by final user refers to energy that is not used for transformation into other forms of energy.
  2. Total energy consumption also includes a small amount of consumption from other final users which are mainly agriculture, public administration and commerce.
  3. Excludes net electricity supply from other fuels, imports and pumped storage.
  4. The greenhouse gas total consists of seven greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. Nitrogen trifluoride emissions are being included in this total for the first time this year, following the introduction of updated guidelines for emissions reporting.
  5. Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.