New report reveals impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK’s total energy use


Total energy use in the UK dropped 13% in 2020, according to a new brief by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Highlighting recent energy statistics, ‘UK energy in brief 2021’ reveals the scale of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on total energy use.

Here’s a roundup of some of the data highlights: 

Impact of COVID-19 

As a result of the pandemic, total energy use in the UK dropped an unprecedented 13% from 2019 to 2020. Domestic energy use rose 2.9% due to increased home working, but use fell in the industrial sector by 6.2%, service sector by 5.6%, and the transport sector by a significant 29%. When adjusted for temperature, total energy consumption fell by 11%.  

In terms of heating and fuel use, consumption of gas fell by 2%, while use of Oil for heating fell by 26%. 

Total imports of energy from abroad (coal, gas and oil) fell 7%, dropping from 35% to 28%, which reflected the pandemic-related drop in demand.  

Carbon and Climate Change 

BEIS provisionally estimates that CO2 emissions in the UK fell by 10.7% in 2020 to 326.1 million tonnes, with total greenhouse gas emissions including CO2 falling 8.9% to 414.1 million tonnes equivalent (MtCO2e). The report indicates that these reductions were almost entirely resulting from reduced economic activity during the pandemic.  

BEIS also analysed CO2e emissions from 1990 to 2019, which had fallen 44% over this period. Of total 2019, scope 1 and scope 2 type emissions, or emissions stemming from direct activity or from the purchase of energy, respectively, the transport sector accounted for 27%, energy supply 21%, and residential sector 15%.  

Coal generation dropped by 42% since 2018 from 12 million tonnes to 7 in 2020, dropping from 51 million tonnes in 2010 for one of the most carbon intensive fuel sources.  

Renewable energy in the UK   

The percentage of UK energy generation from renewables jumped an impressive 2.6% from 2019 to 2020 to 21.5% of total generation, with 1% coming from increased wind generation and 1.1% coming from increased bioenergy.

However, solar energy input into the system only increased .1% during this period. This is a leap compared to 2018 and 2019, where the percentage of renewables in the system only rose from 18.5% to 18.9%.  

Energy supply capacity from biofuels rose 3.9% in 2020, with solar rising 4.4% and wind by 18%. Nuclear supply fell by 11% due to numerous outages at all 8 UK power stations during 2020.  

The carbon ratio, which is a metric that divides UK carbon emissions by its Gross Domestic Product, using 1990 as a baseline of 100, fell from 33.7 to 33.4 in 2020. This measure reflects the carbon intensity of economic activity and has fallen steadily since 1990 due to increased energy efficiency and the decline in energy intensive industrial manufacturing activity.  

Economic indicators 

On average, industrial and domestic electricity, gas and fuel energy prices dropped in 2020, again due to the drop in demand, falling from 117.5 to 113.6 for industry and 121.8 to 110.1 domestically against a 1990 baseline metric of 100.  

By 2020, 23.6 million domestic and non-domestic energy smart meters had been deployed, which enable better energy system planning and flexible energy use by providing more frequent and accurate consumption data.

With the number of smart meters deployed rising by about 3 million for domestic households and 100,000 non-domestic locations, at the end of 2020 42% of all meters deployed were smart, an increase of 5% from 2019.  

 2020 figures for fuel poverty were not available, which accounts for the number of low-income households that are consistently unable to afford to heat their home adequately. However, 2019 figures showed the government was on track to meet its own binding target for reducing the number of households experiencing fuel poverty. 

 In 2019, 13.4% of all households experienced fuel poverty in 2019, representing a drop of 1.6% from 2018. 

The full ‘UK Energy in Brief 2021’-report can be found on the UK government website.