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The UK’s energy transition in a global context

The Energy Institute’s Statistical Review of World Energy was launched on 26th June, revealing that despite record growth in renewable energy, global emissions from fossil fuels are continuing to increase. The review also provides the opportunity see how the energy transition in the UK compares to progress around the world. Here are four key findings about how UK energy measures up:

The UK was number five in the world at generating wind power in 2022


The UK punches above its weight in terms of wind, generating 80 terawatt hours in 2022. This put us behind only China, the US, Germany and Brazil. 25% of the UK’s electricity comes from wind power, although some countries have managed to go a lot further, including Denmark (55%) and Ireland (33%). Much of this success has been a result of our pioneering offshore wind sector. To decarbonise the power sector, our wind capacity needs to increase dramatically, including by opening up onshore wind in England and meeting the Government’s target of 50GW of offshore wind by 2030. This latter target is unlikely to be met on our current trajectory, with the upcoming auction set to deliver at least 4.8GW less than is needed (see here for more details).

The UK is only 17th in the world in solar generation


The UK generated 14 terawatt hours of solar power in 2022, placing it 17th in the world. 4% of our electricity comes from the sun, compared to world leaders like Chile (16%) and Australia (14%). Although we may not have the wide-open spaces and hours of sunshine as some leading countries, we also fall behind similar European neighbours like Germany (11%), Belgium (7%) and – most notably – the Netherlands (15%). There is clearly scope to significantly increase the UK’s use of solar power. This ambition is encapsulated in the Government’s target to have 70GW by 2035, up from around 14GW today. 

UK renewables started strong, but risk falling behind


Since 2010, the amount of renewable energy produced by the UK grew at roughly the same rate as they did around the world – increasing by around 5 times in 2010-2022 – and faster than either the US or Europe. However, growth in the UK was fastest in the early part of the 2010s and has since slowed slightly whilst the rest of the world has accelerated. Meanwhile, the rate of growth in renewable generation in China has been stratospheric. The UK needs to speed up our construction of renewables, both to meet our climate goals and also to maintain our renewable industry’s status in the face of increasing international competition. 

Fossil fuels still make up three-quarters of our energy mix


Although renewables make up a major part of the UK’s electricity generation (around 40%), 75% of our total energy use still comes from fossil fuels. This is below the 82% of energy from fossil fuels globally, but the UK still clearly has a very long way to go. Part of the progress we need to make is continuing to replace electricity from fossil fuels with low carbon sources. The largest challenge now, however, is using clean electricity for transport and heating to reduce the demand for oil from vehicles and gas from buildings. Likewise, the UK falls majorly short in making our buildings more energy efficient so they need less gas.

Overall, it is clear that the UK has areas of strength and is leading the world in the energy transition. But there is still a long way to go and we need to up the pace to achieve our goals and make the most of the opportunity in the energy revolution.

Source: all data from Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy (2023) or analysis thereof.