Feature Report: The Energy Sagas

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The Saga of energies

The History of Energy in the United Kingdom

In partnership with La Recherche and L’Histoire

The United Kingdom is richly endowed with energy resources. Historically, the country relied on coal mining and only tentatively ventured into nuclear energy in the mid-1950s. In the 1960s, the U.K. turned to the oil and natural gas buried below the North Sea. Although the country's natural resources are decreasing, the production of primary energy still accounts for 10% of Britain's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a much higher share than in the majority of industrialized countries.

For a long time, the United Kingdom’s intensive use of fossil energy resources (94% of total energy consumption in 1970) ranked it among the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases. Today, its per-capita CO2 emissions from fuel combustion are more in line with the European average: 7.2 tons in 2012, compared to an EU average of 6.9 tons. By comparison, in that same year, Germany and France had per-capita emissions of 9.2 tons and 5.1 tons, respectively.


  • The History of Energy in the U.K.
  • Energy Choices
  • U.K. today
  • Future Challenges

The United Kingdom's Energy Choices Over the Years

  • Middle Ages
  • XVIth
  • XVIIIth
  • XIXth
  • XXth
  • XXIth
 
Middle Ages: Animal, Human and Charcoal Energy
Middle Ages
© THINKSTOCK

Along with the muscle powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... of men and animals, wood long remained the only energy source available on the British Isles. Converted into charcoalCharcoal is carbon produced by the pyrolysis of wood in the absence of oxygen..., it supported the inception of the earliest industries. Between the 11th and the 13th century, the local population nearly doubled and industry (glass, brick production, etc.) became ever more energy-intensiveDescribes a building, mode of transportation or industrial process that uses large amounts of energy. .

 
16th and 17th Centuries: from Charcoal to Coal
XVI
© THINKSTOCK

Around 1550, a firewood supply crisis began that lasted until the end of the 17th century. Used as a fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... but also in industry, particularly shipbuilding, this resource experienced a seven-fold price increase over the course of a few decades. CoalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... mining, which had begun on a small scale in the Middle Ages in open-pit mines, then gained ground. Less costly than wood, coal gradually replaced it as an energy source.

 
1769: the British Industrial Revolution
XVIII
© WIKICOMMONS

In 1707, at the time of the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, energy sources were still very rudimentary. People burned wood, brush, manure, straw and peat. The real increase in yields from deeper coal mines came with the steam pump invented by the engineer Thomas Savery (see picture), improved in 1711 by Thomas Newcomen and then by James WattThe watt (symbol W) is the derived unit of power (see definition) in the International System of Units (SI).... Patented in 1769, engineer Watt's steam engine set off an industrial revolution that made the country one of the greatest powers in Europe and the world. Great Britain then became the United Kingdom through a new Act of Union signed in 1800 with the Kingdom of Ireland.

Late 18th Century: Coal Takes Off
XVIII
© J Cobden 1853 / WIKICOMMONS

Great Britain invested in its inland waterway network to promote coal transport, soon driving down freight rates for coal by 50%. During the same period, Abraham Darby developed the production of cokeCoke is a coal derivative obtained through pyrolysis. It consists of almost pure carbon..., which is obtained from coal. Coke made British blast furnaces more competitive, thereby reducing the cost price of steel. Coal was also used for manufacturing iron, heating buildings, driving locomotives, etc. Between 1769 and 1800, British production of coal doubled - and that was only the beginning of its exponential growth: 12 million Mt in 1800, 25 million in 1830, 50 million in 1850, 100 million in 1870 and, at its peak, nearly 300 million in 1913.

 
1813: Gas Lighting
1813
© THINKSTOCK

The first gas-jet lamps appeared in the British capital on Westminster Bridge. They were fueled by coal gas produced during the conversion of coal into coke. The Gas Light and Coke Company was the first company to supply London with coal gas, which was used for heating and for lighting the city until 1845.

1829: Stephenson's Rocket
1829
© Lives of the Engineers / WIKICOMMONS

George Stephenson developed the first steam locomotive that can be considered modern. Known as the Rocket, it served on the first passenger line between Liverpool and Manchester.

Late 19th Century: Development of Electricity
XIX
© Gateshead Council / WIKICOMMONS

In 1878, Joseph Swan (see picture) developed the first incandescent light bulbs, some months before those created by Thomas Edison. Each one shined like 3, 10, 16 or 32 candles. In 1891, the engineer Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti designed Britain's first modern electrical power plant. It supplied high-voltage alternating currentA flow of electric charge that changes direction twice per period... that could be adapted to households' needs.

 
Early 20th Century: Oil and Arms
XX
© The World's Work / WIKICOMMONS

Oil became a highly strategic product and the United Kingdom counted on its colonial empire and its dominant position in the Middle East to ensure its supply. The Shell Transport and TradingThe buying and selling of products in financial markets... Company started transporting raw materials. By 1907 the company had built up an entire fleet and merged with Royal Dutch to form the Shell group. Two years later, William Knox D'Arcy, who had just discovered oil in the Middle East, obtained a 60-year concession and created the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. At the same time, in 1911, Winston Churchill (see picture), the newly appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, decided to convert the British navy to fuel oil. In his opinion, oil would make it possible to build ships that were lighter, faster and most easily refueled on the high seas.

First World War, 1914-1918: Securing the Oil Supplies
1914
© Imperial War Museums / WIKICOMMONS

Early in the war, London launched the Dardanelles campaign in present day Turkey to support the Anglo-French war effort and secure supplies from Russian oil fields. In the face of Ottoman resistance, the Allies failed to win control of the straits, without which they could not maintain their supply lines. In 1916, France and Great Britain secretly signed the Sykes-Picot AgreementOil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company..., which provided for the dividing up of the Middle East between the two powers. The division favored the British, who were more knowledgeable about the geographic distribution of oil resources. The agreement was revoked in 1920.

1926: Strike in Support of Mine Workers
1926
© WIKICOMMONS

From the end of the war on, the British coal mining industry became steadily less profitable. In March 1926, the government-mandated Samuel Commission recommended across-the-board 10-25% reductions in pay and an increase in work shifts from 7 to 8 hours. The working class as a whole rallied behind the miners and joined their struggle. A general strike was declared which lasted nine days. The crisis only confirmed the relentless decline of the UK coal industry.

Second World War, 1939-1945: the Middle East, the UK's Oil Supplier
1939
© Imperial war Museums / WIKICOMMONS

As from 1940, the British isles were cut off from colonial production by German submarines. In 1941, the United Kingdom ensured its access to oil supplies by taking control of Iraq and then Syria. The same year, Operation Countenance secured Iran's Abadan oil fields.

1946-1948: Labor Party Nationalizations
1946
© Library and Archives Canada / WIKICOMMONS

At the close of the war, Clement Atlee (see picture), head of the Labor Party, took the reins of power. His government's program was built on a series of nationalizations of services and transportation. The coal mining industry was nationalized in 1946. At that time, 90% of the United Kingdom's electricity was produced from coal. In 1948, the production and distribution of electricity came under State control.

1951: Crisis in Iran
1951
© Mossadegh Foundation / WIKICOMMONS

The Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh (see picture) decided to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (formerly the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which had been 51% owned by the United Kingdom). It expropriated the United Kingdom's share and expelled the British technicians. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were broken off. A few years later a coup d’état supported by the British and American secret services turned the situation around again. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was released from State control and changed its name to British Petroleum (BP).

1956: Suez Crisis
1956
© Imperial War Museums / WIKICOMMONS

After taking power in Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal, the transit point for a large portion of the British merchant fleet. The result was a diplomatic showdown between the United Kingdom and France on the one side and Egypt on the other. The country's oil supply was put in jeopardy. The United Kingdom then launched programs to develop energy capacity. In 1997 the country's nuclear production reached a peak of 26% of domestic production of electricity, a percentage that has yet to be surpassed.

1973: Oil Crisis

In the wake of the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war, the price of oil quadrupled. Caught in a power blackout, the entire country was forced into short-time working (only three days of work per week). In order to help the country overcome the oil crisis, in January 1974 the government participated in the financing of energy research and development, including renewable resources such as geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... and hydropower.

For their part, the oil companies invested in the search for oil resources in more politically secure regions, particularly the North Sea. Between 1975 and 1985, the United Kingdom contributed significantly to the worldwide increase in oil production outside of OPECCreated in 1960, OPEC currently has 12 members: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia... (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)

1988: Piper Alpha Accident
© Lizzie / Geograph

Oil production in the North Sea has been a source of accidents, sometimes fatal. In July 1988, the oil and gas that had accumulated under the Piper Alpha oil rig off the Scottish coast caught fire. The successive explosions engulfed the entire rig, resulting in 167 deaths. The inquiry found there to have been inadequate maintenance and recommended implementation of safety procedures. The Piper Alpha memorial is shown in this picture.


 
1979-1990: the Thatcher years
© White House Photographic Office / WIKICOMMONS

When Margaret Thatcher came to power in May 1979, her objective was to put an end to the country's economic decline. She launched a series of privatizations and ended all form of support to industries in crisis. By 1984, 55,000 companies had gone out of business and 30% of the industrial labor force had been put out of work. The National Union of Mineworkers started a strike that lasted an entire year. The miners' union obtained neither satisfaction nor compensation and many mines closed over the following ten years.

1991-1995: Towards Energy Diversification
© Chris Allen / Geograph.org.uk

In 1991, the first wind farm came on stream in Cornwall. After privatization of electricity production and distribution, the United Kingdom witnessed a headlong rush to gas, which replaced coal for the production of electricity. The British government founded British Energy, which was given responsibility for managing the eight nuclear power plants constructed in the country. One year later, British Energy was privatized. In 2008, it produced 16% of the electricity consumed in the United Kingdom and was bought up by the French electric utility company EDF. Before the close of the century, the British won the right to choose their energy providers, first for household gas, then for electricity.

1999-2000: Peak of Oil and Gas Production
© TAYLOR KEN - TOTAL

The North Sea is the largest offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling". drilling region in the world. The British concession has the greatest number of oil rigs. Oil production peaked in 1999, gas production in 2000. Since then, production has steadily declined, due notably to the gradual depletionIn the oil industry, depletion corresponds to the gradual decline in production from an oil or gas well... of resources. In 2011, Caudrilla Resources carried out the first drillingThe process of boring a hole into the ground using special equipment... for shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... in Lancashire. Following two mini earthquakes attributed to the use of hydraulic fracturingMethod of enhancing the productivity of oil or gas reservoirs with low permeability..., work was suspended, but the government lifted the ban at the end of 2012.

 
2000-2013: Development of Renewable and Nuclear Energy
© London Array

The British government decided to construct eight new nuclear power plants. The production of electricity from nuclear power increased by 11% and greenhouse gasGas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions decreased by 7% compared to 2010. At the same time, the United Kingdom developed its production capacity from renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... sources through several major projects, in particular the wind farm in the outer Thames estuary. In the heart of the British capital, the first hydrogen-fueled taxis were put into service in time for the summer 2012 Olympic Games.

A Constantly Changing Energy Mix

Fossil Fuels, the Source of Economic Development

Until the 1960s, almost all of the United Kingdom's energy was produced from coal. Little by little, oil, and especially nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water... and natural gas contributed to resource diversification, prior to the launch of major offshore wind power projects. At the same time, major efforts were made to increase energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... in transportation and housing.

Coal mining has particularly marked the economic and social history of the United Kingdom. In the Middle Ages, miners were employed by the landowners, who granted them numerous privileges. In the middle of the 19th century, 70% of European coal production came from the United Kingdom. The profitability of mining declined after the First World War, and, by the end of the 1930s, the mining workforce had decreased by one third. The major break with the past came with Thatcher policies implemented in the years 1970-1990; mining employment went from 220,000 in 1985, before the major strike, to 6,000 in 2006, a 97% decrease. Coal's share of the energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. fell from 34% in 1980 to 15% in 2012.
North Sea oil, and especially gas, have replaced coal. Gas production, which began in 1965, reached its peak in 2000 with the production 1.75 Mboe/d (million barrels of oil equivalent per day), making the country practically self-sufficient. Coal-fired power plants have been replaced by gas-fired plants, which are more profitable and cheaper to build. The share of gas in the energy mix grew from 19% in 1980 to 40% in 2012.
Since 1975, the United Kingdom has also produced a great amount of oil. In 1999 it reached a peak of 2.9 Mboe/d, making it the world's eighth largest producer. Between 2001 and 2010, oil production fell from 2.54 to 1.39 Mboe/d. Gas and oil resources are approaching depletion, which is projected to occur in 2020-2025.

Today, the United Kingdom imports its coal, essentially from Russia, Columbia and the United States. The country imports as much natural gas as it produces and has become Europe's third largest importer (mainly from Norway and Qatar). The Foinaven and de Schiehallion deposits west of the Shetland islands are the main sources of British petroleum. Despite the decline in production, U.K. oil dependence does not yet exceed 50%.

Around the British Isles, Offshore Wind Energy and Ocean Energy

Since 2000, wind energyEnergy derived from the wind. Wind power involves converting the kinetic energy of moving air (wind) into electricity. has grown by nearly 27% per year. In late 2007, a major program to build some 7,000 offshore wind turbines was launched. The United Kingdom has the greatest potential wind energy resources in Europe - onshoreRefers to land-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "onshore seismic data acquisition" or "onshore drilling"., and especially offshore, near the coasts of England and Wales. Another strong point for the United Kingdom in terms of renewable energy is its ocean energy capacity. According to specialists, Wales, Ireland and Scotland are the best European sites for harnessing the force of ocean currents. SeaGen, in Northern Ireland, is the world's first large-scale installation to produce electricity from tidal powerTidal power involves harnessing the energy of tidal currents or of the differences in sea level between high and low tide... (1.2 MW (megawatts), 18 to 20 hours per day).

Today, several projects are in the development phase. One of them, London Array, generated its first MWh (megawatt-hours) in October 2012 and is planned to become the largest wind farm in the world. But at present, the country's offshore development is barely half the size of its onshore development. Although the United Kingdom has a history of being very active in energy research and development (e.g., the steam engine, the electric motor, etc.), more recently it has had difficulties coordinating financing. In spite of a tax program aimed at promoting the development of renewable energies (€1.15 billion in tax credits in 2008-2009), the level of public support has been below international averages. Financing of public research amounts to about €35 million annually for renewable energies compared to some €100 million in France.

Reduction of CO2Along with water vapor, carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas (GHG) in the Earth's atmosphere... Emissions: Towards Low-Carbon Vehicles and Energy-Saving Housing Renovation

The U.K. government has announced very clear objectives for housing and transportation: to only build "zero energy" housing as from 2016 and to make the United Kingdom the leader in low-carbon vehicles, particularly through electric and hydrogenThe simplest and lightest atom, the most abundant element in the universe. energy. In housing, the Green Deal is a mechanism that allows consumers to finance their energy upgrades through their energy bills; it should contribute to a significant improvement in household energy efficiency. According to the U.K. Low Carbon Transition Plan, 7 million households will have become more energy efficient by 2020 (France anticipates 500,000 renovations per year between 2013 and 2020). As for new housing, since 2007 builders have been required to achieve energy performances 40% higher than 2002 standards.
With its U.K. Low Carbon Transition Plan, the country has taken a leading position in meeting E.U. requirements for a 40% reduction in new car CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions by 2020 compared to 2009. Car manufacturers have also committed to reducing emissions through the Voluntary Agreement on New Vehicle Efficiency. Special subsidies have been granted to green transportation projects. The Green Bus Fund, launched in 2009, helps local governments and bus companies to buy new, cleaner vehicles. Other incentives have been set up, including urban tolls in London, a CO2 emissions tax on company cars and an annual tax on motor vehicles using public roads that is calculated on the basis of CO2 emissions.

Today, transportation accounts for one third of the total energy consumed in the United Kingdom and nearly as high a share of CO2 emissions. Specialists believe that these emissions will peak in 2015 and then start to decrease. The United Kingdom is also focusing on renewable energies, particularly biofuelsA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel.... In 2013, BP opened the country's largest bioethanol plant. At full capacity, it will be able to produce 420 million liters a year. By way of comparison, production in France, Europe's market leader, amounted to 1.15 billion liters in 2011.

Fossil Fuels, the Source of Economic Development

Until the 1960s, almost all of the United Kingdom's energy was produced from coal. Little by little, oil, and especially nuclear energy and natural gas contributed to resource diversification, prior to the launch of major offshore wind power projects. At the same time, major efforts were made to increase energy efficiency in transportation and housing.

Coal mining has particularly marked the economic and social history of the United Kingdom. In the Middle Ages, miners were employed by the landowners, who granted them numerous privileges. In the middle of the 19th century, 70% of European coal production came from the United Kingdom. The profitability of mining declined after the First World War, and, by the end of the 1930s, the mining workforce had decreased by one third. The major break with the past came with Thatcher policies implemented in the years 1970-1990; mining employment went from 220,000 in 1985, before the major strike, to 6,000 in 2006, a 97% decrease. Coal's share of the energy mix fell from 34% in 1980 to 15% in 2012.
North Sea oil, and especially gas, have replaced coal. Gas production, which began in 1965, reached its peak in 2000 with the production 1.75 Mboe/d (million barrels of oil equivalent per day), making the country practically self-sufficient. Coal-fired power plants have been replaced by gas-fired plants, which are more profitable and cheaper to build. The share of gas in the energy mix grew from 19% in 1980 to 40% in 2012.
Since 1975, the United Kingdom has also produced a great amount of oil. In 1999 it reached a peak of 2.9 Mboe/d, making it the world's eighth largest producer. Between 2001 and 2010, oil production fell from 2.54 to 1.39 Mboe/d. Gas and oil resources are approaching depletion, which is projected to occur in 2020-2025.

Today, the United Kingdom imports its coal, essentially from Russia, Columbia and the United States. The country imports as much natural gas as it produces and has become Europe's third largest importer (mainly from Norway and Qatar). The Foinaven and de Schiehallion deposits west of the Shetland islands are the main sources of British petroleum. Despite the decline in production, U.K. oil dependence does not yet exceed 50%.

Around the British Isles, Offshore Wind Energy and Ocean Energy

Since 2000, wind energy has grown by nearly 27% per year. In late 2007, a major program to build some 7,000 offshore wind turbines was launched. The United Kingdom has the greatest potential wind energy resources in Europe - onshore, and especially offshore, near the coasts of England and Wales. Another strong point for the United Kingdom in terms of renewable energy is its ocean energy capacity. According to specialists, Wales, Ireland and Scotland are the best European sites for harnessing the force of ocean currents. SeaGen, in Northern Ireland, is the world's first large-scale installation to produce electricity from tidal power (1.2 MW (megawatts), 18 to 20 hours per day).

Today, several projects are in the development phase. One of them, London Array, generated its first MWh (megawatt-hours) in October 2012 and is planned to become the largest wind farm in the world. But at present, the country's offshore development is barely half the size of its onshore development. Although the United Kingdom has a history of being very active in energy research and development (e.g., the steam engine, the electric motor, etc.), more recently it has had difficulties coordinating financing. In spite of a tax program aimed at promoting the development of renewable energies (€1.15 billion in tax credits in 2008-2009), the level of public support has been below international averages. Financing of public research amounts to about €35 million annually for renewable energies compared to some €100 million in France.

Reduction of CO2 Emissions: Towards Low-Carbon Vehicles and Energy-Saving Housing Renovation

The U.K. government has announced very clear objectives for housing and transportation: to only build "zero energy" housing as from 2016 and to make the United Kingdom the leader in low-carbon vehicles, particularly through electric and hydrogen energy. In housing, the Green Deal is a mechanism that allows consumers to finance their energy upgrades through their energy bills; it should contribute to a significant improvement in household energy efficiency. According to the U.K. Low Carbon Transition Plan, 7 million households will have become more energy efficient by 2020 (France anticipates 500,000 renovations per year between 2013 and 2020). As for new housing, since 2007 builders have been required to achieve energy performances 40% higher than 2002 standards.
With its U.K. Low Carbon Transition Plan, the country has taken a leading position in meeting E.U. requirements for a 40% reduction in new car CO2 emissions by 2020 compared to 2009. Car manufacturers have also committed to reducing emissions through the Voluntary Agreement on New Vehicle Efficiency. Special subsidies have been granted to green transportation projects. The Green Bus Fund, launched in 2009, helps local governments and bus companies to buy new, cleaner vehicles. Other incentives have been set up, including urban tolls in London, a CO2 emissions tax on company cars and an annual tax on motor vehicles using public roads that is calculated on the basis of CO2 emissions.

Today, transportation accounts for one third of the total energy consumed in the United Kingdom and nearly as high a share of CO2 emissions. Specialists believe that these emissions will peak in 2015 and then start to decrease. The United Kingdom is also focusing on renewable energies, particularly biofuels. In 2013, BP opened the country's largest bioethanol plant. At full capacity, it will be able to produce 420 million liters a year. By way of comparison, production in France, Europe's market leader, amounted to 1.15 billion liters in 2011.

The UK Power Mix in 2012

The power mix is the percentage of fossil, nuclear and renewable energy used to produce electricity. It isn't concerned with the problem of energy use in transportation and industry. Natural gas continues to be the main source of electricity generation, and coal still plays an important role.

Changes in the UK Energy Mix from 1970 to 2020

The term energy mix refers to how final energy consumption in a given geographical region breaks down by primary energyAll energy sources that have not undergone any conversion process and remain in their natural state.. source. Coal has been gradually replaced by natural gas from the North Sea, while nuclear power has increased steadily.

Energy mix source: 2009 International Energy Agency statistics, www.iea.org/stats

Choose two years to compare energy mix trends:

and

Energy mix source: 2009 International Energy Agency statistics, www.iea.org/stats

FEW NUMBERS

  • AREA
  • POPULATION
  • POPULATION GROWTH
  • AGEING POPULATION
  • GDP
  • GDP PER CAPITA
  • HUMAN
    DEVELOPMENT
    INDEX (HDI)
  • CO2 EMISSIONS
 

Sources : World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Division.

FEW NUMBERS

  • AREA

  • POPULATION

  • POPULATION GROWTH

  • AGEING POPULATION

  • GDP

  • GDP PER CAPITA

  • HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
    INDEX (HDI)

  • CO2 EMISSIONS

Sources : World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Division.

Energy Choices for Future Generations

The United Kingdom's energy policy is today guided by four key goals: securing its energy supplies, ensuring industry’s competitiveness, cutting CO2 emissions 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (compared to 1990), and providing the population with an acceptable level of energy comfort.

Decarbonization: The Contribution of Renewable Energies

décarbonisation
@ THINKSTOCK

In July 2006, the U.K. government's Energy Review proposed to create a new energy mix emphasizing renewable energies (particularly wind and hydro), as well as nuclear energy (new generation power plants). One of the solutions proposed by the Energy Review was to increase the share of electricity in total energy consumption (heating, transportation, etc.). To generate this electricity, the government is counting in part on the development of renewable energies. The goal is to increase available power by 25 GW from its current level of less than 1.5 GW.
Scotland is already a leader in the field. Endowed with one quarter of the European Union's estimated potential offshore wind power, Scotland has revised its objectives upwards and hopes to produce 80% of its electricity from renewable energies by 2020. Individuals and industry are encouraged to equip themselves with individual installations for producing energy from renewables, such as solar, wind, hydraulic, heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... pumps, etc.
But in contrast to Germany for example, the debate on the role of renewable energies has not yet been fully settled. Although immediately following his election, the Conservative Party’s David Cameron affirmed his desire to head "the greenest government ever", the U.K. Independence Party and some Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party have called for suspension of goals to reduce fossil fuel use.

Decarbonization: The Contribution of Nuclear Energy

éoliennes
@ THINKSTOCK

In order to diversify the U.K.'s energy mix, the Energy Review proposes to develop nuclear energy along with renewables. Although nuclear energy's costs may continue to rise (due to the cost of decommissioning, waste management, etc.), it is competitive with fossil fuels at today's prices (4.5 pence/kWh against 4.1 for coal and 3.9 for gas). Using nuclear power is also a way of securing energy supplies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That said, nuclear power is not the country's most popular energy and only 23% of the British (compared to 36% of the French in June 2013) believe that it has a future. The British are fearful of accidents and terrorist attacks and worry about the treatment of radioactive waste. Moreover, by 2025, 9 of the country's 10 nuclear power plants will have to be shut down due to obsolescence. Heavy investment will be required to renew the country's facilities. In 2008, the British government gave the green light to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants projected to deliver 12.5 GW spread out over eight plants.

Fears of an Energy Gap

The United Kingdom might soon find itself confronted with an energy shortage, particularly with regard to electricity. The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets confirmed this in July 2013, calling for an increase in national production capacity.
In order to meet new European air quality requirements, 9 obsolete coal-fired power plants will be closed. British North Sea gas reserves are decreasing. It might be possible to increase production again by allowing shale gas and oil development, but British civil society is not moving in that direction.
As for renewable energies and nuclear power, existing facilities are not able to offset the loss of production from fossil fuels. Specialists fear an energy gap of 20% as from 2015 if measures are not taken rapidly.
In the meantime, certain industrialists envisage constructing new gas-fired and coal-fired power plants. In order to meet environmental standards, these plants will have to be equipped with CO2 capture and storage systems. A first test on a production unit of a coal-fired power plant was undertaken in 2009. The idea was to liquefy more than 90% of the carbon dioxide emitted before storing it underground. But the project was never extended to the entire plant due to lack of funding.

Maintaining Reasonable Costs

station
© TAYLOR KEN - TOTAL

Another concern of the British government is to make a successful energy transition while limiting an increase in inequality among the population, particularly since the price of energy in the U.K. has soared. Between 2005 and 2012, the price of household electricity doubled, climbing from €0.08/kWh to €0.16/kWh (France: €0.09/kWh, Germany: €0.14/kWh). Similarly, gas prices rose from €6.9/GJ in 2005 to some €13.8/GJ in 2012 (France: €14.7/GJ, Germany: €13.2/GJ).
In 2001, the U.K. government implemented its Fuel Poverty Strategy with the objective of eradicating the problem by 2018. In the past, payment of energy bills essentially relied on State aid to households that devoted more than 10% of their income to energy costs. Today, one of the cornerstones of the Fuel Poverty Strategy is to make housing more energy efficient. More than €2 billion has already been invested in the program.
Industry too has also made efforts to avoid an excessive increase in energy bills. Between 2005 and 2012, the cost of electricity climbed by more than 90% and forecasts for the future are not optimistic (a 17% increase is projected by 2020). Industry is afraid of losing out to international competitors. The government, meanwhile, is trying to remain optimistic and is counting in particular on growth in green markets. Today, this sector employs more than 880,000 people (3.5% of the world market, ahead of France and behind Germany).

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