Most of us are lucky enough to take our energy for granted, but understanding where your energy comes from can help you understand how policies and climate change can impact your bill
We’ve come to have a certain expectation for our day-to-day lives: that we flick the switch and the lights turn on; that we turn our boiler on and it heats our home; and that the energy bill will not be too high.
But have you ever wondered where we get our gas and electricity from, why prices are going up and what else could be done?
Where does my energy come from?
The UK is blessed in that we have our own fuel reserves, although the nature of these reserves has changed over time.
However, the percentage of our fuel sourced domestically has decreased over time, and according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), was at its lowest-ever level in 2013.
The energy regulator Ofgem has warned that declining UK energy production due to the closure of key power stations means the UK will become more dependent on gas imports in particular, which has an impact on prices.
In 2012, the UK reached its highest level of fuel-import dependency since the mid-1970s, and its lowest level of domestic coal production.
The reason for these closures is a shift toward renewables as older coal power stations are closed. But as the level of renewable production increases, it is down to gas to make the shortfall.
While historically the majority of our electricity was produced using coal from the UK, nowadays coal is only one component.
The UK has its own natural gas supplies, but we also import gas, predominantly from Norway but also from Russia. Some gas also comes through pipelines under the channel from Belgium and the Netherlands, and in a liquid state from Qatar.
UK natural gas production meanwhile is declining as North Sea gas supplies run lower.
Electricity production is more complicated, as it is produced from gas, coal and nuclear, some of which is domestically produced and some of which is imported.
Good Energy’s research estimates 16.9% comes from Asia and the Middle East; 10.7% from North America; 9.2% from Europe; 7.2% from Africa; 5.1% from Australia; 4.2% from South America; and the remainder is produced domestically.
What type of fuel makes up my energy supply?
While we remain predominantly dependent on natural gas and coal, the UK’s fossil fuel dependency is lower than ever.
The UK is required by EU law to reduce its carbon output, so the government is shifting away from fossil fuels (like coal, oil and gas) and toward low-carbon energy sources. In 2012, fossil fuels accounted for 69.5% of domestic production.
According to DECC, the UK generated 30.5% of its domestic energy from low-carbon sources in 2012, but the UK still sources more of its low-carbon energy from nuclear rather than renewables.
We have also pulled together the latest fuel mix figures to show where your energy supplier gets their electricity from:
How much of my energy is from renewable sources?
According to DECC, only 4.1% of our entire energy consumption in 2012 was from renewable sources.
However, 11.3% of our electricity came from renewables in 2012, with the largest increase coming from offshore wind farms, but DECC predicts this will change over the coming years with a greater shift toward renewables as capacity increases.
Between 2011 and 2012 alone, the amount of offshore wind energy produced in the UK increased by 46%, the amount of onshore wind energy went up 17%, solar power went up fourfold, and the amount generated from plant biomass doubled.
A large part of this growth was down to the government’s Renewables Obligation (RO), which requires energy companies to source a fixed, and growing, percentage of their energy from renewable sources or face fines.
Can I choose my own type of energy?
Yes. You can choose the type of energy you consume by choosing a particular supplier, choosing a particular plan or tariff, or by generating your own.
As the fuel-mix tables above show, you can choose your energy supplier based on their particular fuel-mix — but bear in mind this is only for electricity generation.
Alternatively, you can choose a specialised provider that produce all their energy from renewable sources, like Good Energy.
If a particular supplier isn’t available in your area, however, don’t worry, you can still choose a green plan. Green energy plans advertise themselves as being renewable, but different plans source different percentages of their energy from renewables, so be sure to read the plan details first.
Finally, you can always produce your own energy. The most popular form of domestic fuel-generation is solar. Solar power prices have been decreasing in recent years, meaning there has never been a better time than now to invest in solar.
If you generate your own energy you may also qualify for Feed-in Tariffs, whereby your energy supplier will pay you for the energy you generate.