The consumption of natural gas in the UK has fluctuated from 2003-2020, with figures decreasing by 27 billion cubic meters. The UK consumes around 2,795,569 million cubic feet (mcf) of natural gas per year as of the year 2017, ranking 11th in the world for natural gas consumption and accounting for 2.1% of the world’s total consumption of 132,290,211 mcf. It consumes 41,895 cubic feet of natural gas per capita every year, or 115 cubic feet per capita per day. Most recently, natural gas consumption in the UK reached 72.5 billion cubic meters in 2020, down from 77.3 billion cubic meters in the prior year. The level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has also fluctuated along with the use of natural gas from 1990-2020. Over the last decade the use of natural gas and the GHG emissions has steadily decreased, as the GHG emissions went from being 608.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2010 to 405.5 MtCO2e in 2020 and the use of natural gas went from being 92.37 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2010 to 74.36 Mtoe in 2020. This is a result of the use of more renewables and less fossil fuels.
The UK remains a major producer of natural gas, sitting within the top 20 gas producing countries globally. The UK generates 1,675,237.66 mcf of natural gas per year as of 2015, ranking 21st in the world and producing 39.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2020. Half of the UK’s gas comes from the North Sea, and a third is sourced from Norway. Norway and the Netherlands are the key exporters of natural gas to the UK, coming through pipelines underneath the seabed, accounting for 61% and 7% of the UK’s gas imports in 2015 respectively. In 2020, 1.4 million metric tons of natural gas were imported from Norway. The remaining gas imports come to the UK as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar and the US. In 2020, Qatar exported 9 billion cubic meters (bcm) of LNG to the UK. As the amount of gas coming from the North Sea is expected to decline significantly, by 2030 the UK will be buying at least 70% of its gas from outside the UK.
In an effort to reduce emissions, the UK government has announced a ban on gas boilers as stated in the UK’s Heat and Buildings Strategy. By 2025, gas boilers will be banned from newly built houses, meaning that anyone who moves into a home built from 2025 onwards will have to use low-carbon heating methods. Also, by 2035, the UK will phase out all gas boiler installations, meaning that homeowners will have to look for alternatives (e.g., hydrogen boilers or heat pumps once their existing boiler comes to the end of its life). Since 14% of UK emissions come from domestic energy use, banning gas boilers is a major move to help the country reach its net zero by 2050 target. Overall, although natural gas is not as bad as coal and oil, it is still one of the fossil fuels that is causing climate change, so the UK is heading in the right direction.
Along with the ban, the UK is using more renewables than fossil fuels which means fewer carbon emissions, less air pollution, cleaner water and hitting the goal of net zero by 2050. For the first time, renewable energy overtook fossil fuels to be the biggest source of electricity in the UK in 2020. Wind, solar, bioenergy and hydro power generated a record 42% of UK power in 2020 compared to 37% in 2019, while fossil fuels- mostly gas –produced 41% compared to 45% in 2019.
Natural gas is used as a source of energy for heating, cooking, and electricity generation. In the UK, natural gas currently provides more than 84% of our heating needs and around 40% of our electricity generation. It is also used as a fuel for vehicles and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals and fertilizers. Oil and natural gas provide the energy source or raw material to make a wide range of products and plastics e.g., shampoo, toothpaste, washing powder and clothing. In 2018, 21,685 GWh of gas was used in the chemicals industry, 21,007 GWh in the food and beverage industry and 14,840 GWh for producing mineral products.
Natural gas demand was down 6.0% compared to 2019, to 811 TWh, the lowest level seen since 2015 because of reduced activity across the economy during restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. There were declines in gas demand for electricity generation, industry, and services as large parts of the economy shut down in line with government restrictions. The government has put in place a strategy to try and reduce our reliance on natural gas for heating, but this will take many years to develop as it involves new technologies and modifications in behavior. Gas has a major part to play in bridging the gap between the current system and any future low carbon technologies.
The UK government is committed to a low carbon and affordable future for our energy. Gas, the least polluting fossil fuel, still meets a third of our energy demand and we will need it for many years to come. In 2019, the UK government published the UK’s Draft Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan, in which the government reiterated its view that there are potentially substantial benefits from the safe and sustainable exploration and development of our onshore shale gas resources. Shale gas could be a new domestic source of natural gas for the UK as production from the North Sea declines and we rely increasingly on imports. However, the UK government has been clear that shale gas development must be safe and environmentally sound.
Developing shale gas could create a new British industry, providing many direct, highly skilled jobs and could indirectly support other industries and help our local and national economy. The government continues to support the development of British shale gas by establishing a Shale Environmental Regulator Group, which brings the regulators together as a virtual body, helping to resolve regulatory issues on sites and sharing best practices with local authorities managing shale gas planning applications. Also, the UK is providing support for those involved in decision making by launching a new £1.6 million shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity and capability in local authorities dealing with shale planning applications. Appointing the first commissioner for shale gas is another thing the government is doing. The commissioner will be a contact point for residents and communities, to listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulators and industry. The government has also announced the Shale Wealth Fund, which will provide additional resources to local communities, over and above industry schemes and other sources of government funding.
The UK is beginning to move away from using less natural gas in all sectors particularly heating and electricity to 100% renewables in order to reach net zero by 2050. The UK government is starting to think about phasing out natural gas in homes completely and moving to more low carbon technologies to heat and power homes across the UK. Therefore, the government is moving in the right direction to make sure they reduce their GHG emissions and reach their climate targets.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard UK Country Manager Manpreet Aulakh