Charting UK Energy Flows

The combined economic and environmental pressures of, on the one hand, volatile energy markets and looming peak oil, and on the other, the need to mitigate anthropogenic climate change, means that in the coming decades the economic success and quality of life of countries will be increasingly be linked to the efficiency of energy systems and moving away from fossil fuels.

A revealing way to understand energy production and consumption in the UK is to look at the UK Energy Flow Chart supplied by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, shown below. Primary energy sources are on the left and consumption sectors are on the right. Given the media debate over renewable energy, you might be forgiven for thinking this plays a substantial role in UK energy production, yet it is almost negligibly small, and UK electricity is dominated by natural gas and coal power, supported by nuclear. But perhaps even more important is that electricity production overall is only around 20% of our energy consumption, and instead our energy use is dominated by petroleum for transport (around 50%) and natural gas for heating (around 30%). Thus the UK economy is inextricably tied to fossil fuels and we are highly exposed to current energy security threats.

We have two projects linked to sustainability issues here at Simulacra, SCALE and ARCADIA. These focus mainly on the transportation sector (note we will also be considering the built environment’s role in energy consumption in a new project beginning soon). UK transportation is almost entirely (98%) based on petroleum and given the ‘perfect storm’ of middle-east instability, accelerating demand from BRIC countries and looming peak oil, this situation is going to have to change pretty quickly. It should be clear from the above chart that switching petrol cars to electric vehicles is no simple matter (given that transport energy use is twice as large as the total energy production of the entire UK grid). Thus there is an essential role for land use planning in creating more efficient transport systems and reducing the need to travel, which we will be exploring in our modelling projects.