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  • Writer's pictureKat Buckley

The UK's energy mix: what we use and where it comes from

The UK may not be due to hit net zero until 2050, but we’ve already started the transition to clean energy sources (we ran off 57.6% clean energy in May - check out our app for more insights). While our reliance on fossil fuels hasn’t completely gone away, we are committed to a cleaner future. Let's dive into the primary sources of energy that power the UK.

1. Natural gas

Natural gas used to be the cornerstone of the UK's energy supply. It was our largest fuel source in 2023, accounting for 32% of our energy mix, but our use of gas was the lowest it’s been since 2015. The UK benefits from substantial domestic production, with about half of our gas coming from the North Sea and a third sourced from Norway.

2. Wind

In 2023, wind power was second in fuel use to gas, accounting for 29.4% of the energy mix. Wind power creates no carbon emissions and is not harmful to the environment, but wind turbines don’t generate any energy when there is no wind. Most of the UK’s wind energy comes from offshore wind farms.

3. Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy plays a critical role in the UK's energy landscape, contributing about 14.2% of the electricity mix in 2023. Nuclear energy is considered a clean energy because it produces nearly zero carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is still no definitive way to dispose of spent fuel from reactors without risk. It’s also not renewable and will eventually run out.

5. Biomass

Although a smaller contributor compared to wind and solar, biomass can be used for both electricity generation and heating. It accounted for 5% of the energy mix in 2023. Biomass is a renewable energy source generated from burning wood, plants, and other organic matter. It does release carbon dioxide when burned, but considerably less than fossil fuels.

4. Solar power

Solar power accounted for almost 5% of the UK’s energy mix in 2023. Of the 14 large-scale solar parks proposed for the UK, only two are currently in operation. And there’s so much more scope for growth, with only 2.7% of households in the UK having installed residential solar power.

5. Hydropower 

Hydropower was a small contributor to the UK’s energy mix in 2023, accounting for just 1.8% of our overall energy. 85% of the UK’s hydropower comes from Scotland, with many of the stations built in the 50s and 60s. While hydro is a clean, sustainable, and renewable energy source,  there is resistance to building more stations in the UK as many sites are in protected areas of natural beauty.

6. Coal

Coal's contribution to the UK's energy mix has dramatically declined over the past few decades, in 2023, it made up less than 1% of the energy mix. This decline is due to stringent environmental regulations and the UK's commitment to completely stop generating electricity using coal by October 2024. The remaining coal plants serve as backup during peak demand periods or when renewable generation is low.

7. Imports

In 2023, 10.7% of the UK’s energy mix came from imports from neighbouring countries, including France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This provides flexibility and security to the UK’s energy supply, allowing for the import of electricity during periods of high demand or low domestic generation.

While we’re on the path to reducing carbon emissions, we need to keep pressure on the government to continue the shift towards cleaner energy sources so we can reach net zero by 2050. Tracking our progress to net zero is the only way to stay on top of the climate emergency. 

Join the movement! Download UK Zero, connect with others, and let's work together for a sustainable future.

The UK Zero logo beside a phone with the UK Zero home screen showing the UK's energy mix on the 11th May 2023.


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