Energy Transition

UK's energy consumption is lower than it was in 1970

UK energy consumption data: The country now consumes less overall energy than it did in 1970.

UK energy consumption data: The country now consumes less overall energy than it did in 1970. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Akshat Rathi
Reporter, Quartz
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Technological Transformation

Each year, the UK government publishes detailed data about the country’s energy consumption and emissions. It reveals an intriguing story: The country now consumes less overall energy than it did in 1970.

The UK now consumes less overall energy than it did in 1970.
The UK now consumes less overall energy than it did in 1970. Image: ATLAS, BEIS, Carbon Brief

The feat is more impressive given that the UK economy grew more than three times larger from 1965 to today, implying that the amount of energy required to produce each pound of economic output has fallen precipitously.

UK energy consumption economy
The energy intensity of UK's economy over the last 50 years. Image: ATLAS, ONS, BEIS

This reduction in energy consumption is due to UK's shift from energy intensive industries, such as cement and steel, to services-based industries, such as finance and consulting. The country’s move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy has also helped.

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When a lump of coal or a liter of gasoline is burned, much of it is lost as heat and only a fraction of the energy is used productively. Renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and hydro features much lower losses from generation to consumption.

That’s good news because the UK legally committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.

UK energy consumption economy emissions decline
UK's economy more than tripled as its emissions and energy consumption declined. Image: ATLAS, ONS, BEIS, WRI

Though the country produces fewer emissions than it did in 1890, there is still a ways to go to hit zero. And, to be sure, these data do not include “imported emissions”—that is, emissions produced by other countries to create goods that Brits consume (a notoriously difficult-to-compile measure).

Carbon intensity of the UK economy over the past 50 years.
Carbon intensity of the UK economy over the past 50 years. Image: ATLAS, ONS, BEIS, WRI

The closer the country gets to zero, the harder it will be to cut emissions. Even so, the UK is ahead of many other large, developed economies when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases with a massively lower energy consumption than before.

energy consumption greenhouse gas emissions
Change in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. Image: ATLAS, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
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Energy TransitionClimate Action
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