Britain’s electricity use is at its lowest for decades – but will never be this low again

22nd January 2021 | Commercial Energy

In 2020, Britain’s electrical use was the lowest it had been since 1983. This wasn’t entirely due to Covid – demand for more than a decade anyway, thanks to savings from energy-efficient appliances, moving industry offshore and consumers becoming more careful as costs increased. But demand will bounce back after Covid. And the electrification of transport and heat, both critical to achieving net-zero emissions, will require lots more electricity in future.

Britains Electricity

We have looked at the data for electricity use in Great Britain (Northern Ireland is part of a single market on the island of Ireland) over the past year and we believe that there will never again be a year when so little electricity is used. Pandemic measure reduced the overall amount of electricity used by 6% in 2020, to the lowest level since 1983. When you look at usage per person the fall in recent years is even more extreme. To find a similar level of electricity use per capita you would have to go back more than 50 years to a time when black and white TVs were still the norm.

Overall, 2020 was not a particularly windy year but wind still managed to generate more than a quarter of Britain’s electrical energy. Broadly speaking, generation from other renewables and coal were all similar to 2019. Reductions in generation came mostly from gas, while nuclear output also dropped to its lowest level since 1982. Net imports were also down on recent years.

From a climate perspective, major power production was coal-free for more than 5,000 hours in 2020 – more than half the year. This meant the electricity that was generated was on average Britain’s cleanest ever. Over the past decade, Britain has switched its electricity generation from coal to gas to renewables. The challenge is to continue to substitute the remaining fossil-fuels while at the same time increasing the total amount generated.

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