How many neanderthals does it take to change a light bulb? None: they didn’t have electricity. As jokes go, it’s appalling. As a prospect for daily existence, life without power is infinitely worse.
Today, UK homeowners expect flick-of-a-switch access to energy. It keeps our houses warm, our fridges cold and our lights illuminated. Yet where does our power come from? How does it reach us? And why is it becoming so expensive?
People talk about the UK’s “energy mix”, which makes it sound a convoluted affair. In fact, we get our domestic energy from one of two sources: electricity (23% of total energy consumption) and gas (68%).
Most of us use electricity to power things, and gas to heat things (water and heating systems, in the main) – although electric boilers and the like demonstrate that the lines can and do often blur.
The remaining 9% of domestic energy comes mostly from oil and solid fuels such as wood and housecoal. The reduction in coal as a base source of energy marks one of the biggest shifts in the UK power market over recent decades. In 1970, a whopping 39% of household energy came from coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Today the figure is less than 1%.
Another change is our consumption of energy. According to the latest government figures, UK householders collectively get through around 43m tonnes of oil a year. Thanks to better insulation and other energy efficiencies, individual UK homeowners use 12% less energy now than in 1990.
Where does our energy come from?