Friday, October 12, 2012

Per Capita Energy Use in the UK

The history of energy use per capita is quite different in the UK compared to other developed countries. Already by 1800 about 3/4 of UK energy use was coal as the UK was the first country to industrialize. Energy use per capita peaks before the First World War and never really "recovers". In most other countries there was a very strong growth of energy use between the end of the Second World War and the oil price shocks in the 1970s.

This data is a rough estimate of "final energy use". The energy in electricity consumed is included in the data and the energy used to produce the electricity is deducted. Currently, electricity generation is about 40% efficient in the UK, meaning that 60% of the energy used to generate electricity is lost as waste heat. There are also about 7% losses of electricity in the transmission and distribution system.


  1. It is interesting that per capita final energy consumption has declined dramatically in the last few years, but the production energy cost ratio has remained roughly constant (per your last post). These data suggest that producers are able to quickly substitute for energy when its price spikes, but consumers are not able to do that.

    Incidentally, what are the units of this chart? GWh (per year per capita)?

  2. Sorry, I did this quickly and didn't bother to put the units on the Y axis. The units are TeraJoules per person.

    We haven't differentiated between producers and consumers in either of these graphs. They are total energy use in the country divided by population and total value of energy divided by the value of energy plus the GDP. What you are seeing in the last few years is that the cost share rose a bit and energy quantity declined quite a lot (I'm not yet certain how reliable those data are). This implies (at least simplistically ignoring efficiency changes etc) an elasticity of demand of less than one but not a lot less than one.

  3. I would suggest that the reason for the peak was (assuming you are talking about total energy consumption) is that until the first World War Britain was a principle supplier of rail hardware and iron products to its colonies and other nations. The world war forced other nation to industrialise to build weaponry and war machinery. At the time of the first World War Brittains rail infrastructure was mostly in place and rail transport moved into a maintenance and utilisation phase. So the combination of mature infrastructure and competition from other newly industrialised nations I would expect to be the cause of the dcline in per capita energy consumption share for Brittain post World War I.

    Taxation is another indicator that sees transitions at the world war nodes.

    The Global energy picture from here forward is going to be an interesting study as renewable energy moves to be the dominate source. The coming US presidential election features an interesting development in Michigan (I think) where there is a propostion (3) to include in the constitution of that state a mandatory 25% renewable energy content for that state. I hop it gets up as it will put paid to the "no one else is doing anything so why should we" lobby.


  4. Hi. Just commenting to say thank you for the clear illustration. I am comparing per capita consumption of India and the UK for my assignment but my textbook has more information on India than the UK.

    Studying Energy & Sustainability with the Open University.
    Kind Regards