United Kingdom

united_kingdom_round_icon_640The United Kingdom has the second largest economy in the European Union. Following a referendum in June 2016, the country informed other member states that it would leave the Union – a process referred to as “Brexit”.



General data






€ billion

2 393.7

Per capita GDP


36 000

The UK is one of the largest energy consumers in Europe, third after Germany and France in the EU. It is by far the largest oil producer in the EU, accounting for two thirds of all oil production, and is also the largest producer of fossil gas. Together, the UK and the Netherlands account for two thirds of EU fossil gas production. At 36.0% in 2018, the UK’s energy import dependence is well below the EU average.

In 2018, UK primary energy production was 185.7 Mtce, with coal accounting for just 2.4 Mtce (1.3%).  Total primary energy consumption was 273.5 Mtce, with fossil gas (39.2%) and oil (35.8%) having the largest shares, followed by biofuels and waste (9.1%) and nuclear (7.3%).  Coal accounted for 4.4%;  hydro, wind and solar totalled 3.4%.

After spending most of the previous twenty-five years as a net exporter of energy, the UK became a net importer in 2004.  The gap between imports and exports has since increased and in 2011 imports of energy outstripped indigenous production for the first time.  This trend looks set to continue as North Sea oil and gas reserves deplete.  In 2014, the UK became a net importer of petroleum products.

Power generation in the UK is increasingly dependent on fossil gas while coal’s share has declined from 64.6% in 1990.  In 2018, gross electricity supply was 332.9 TWh, dominated by gas (39.5%), renewables (33.0%) and nuclear power (19.5%).  Coal saw a further rapid decline to just 17.6 TWh (5.3%), having been in the number one position as recently as 2015 when its share was 33.6%.

Following many closures of UK coal-fired power plants in recent years, mainly as a result of a carbon tax, the remaining plants in November 2019 are:  RWE Aberthaw B (1 560 MW), Drax (two 660 MW units), SSE Fiddlers Ferry (1 455 MW), EPH Kilroot (560 MW), UNIPER Ratcliffe (2 000 MW) and EDF West Burton A (2 000 MW).  The closures of Aberthaw and Fiddlers Ferry have been announced for March 2020.  Two UK generators were granted state support to enable biomass conversions of their coal-fired power stations at Lynemouth and Drax (four units).

The UK power generation sector has little new conventional thermal capacity under construction or planned, with the main emphasis now on offshore wind.  The 3 200 MW Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, which is under construction, has been subject to repeated delays and major cost increases.

The UK carbon price support mechanism or carbon tax placed an additional levy on coal-fired generation from April 2013.  It increased in April 2014 to £9.55 per tonne of CO2 emitted and to £18.08 per tonne in April 2015.  The levy is frozen around this level until 2021, but its trajectory thereafter is uncertain.  It adds a tax of around £42 per tonne of coal to the cost of coal-fired generation, in addition to the cost of allowances under the EU emissions trading system (ETS) which reached €30 per tonne of CO2 in summer 2019.  A provisional £16 per tonne of CO2 tax has been announced to replace the EU ETS in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The UK capacity market is designed to ensure reliable generation is available to balance intermittent renewables.  Auctions are held four years ahead for the bulk of required capacity with a balancing auction one year ahead.  These were suspended in late 2018, together with capacity payments, as a result of an illegality ruling by the European Court, but this issue has now been settled in the UK’s favour.  Clearing prices have been generally too low to bring forward the new gas-fired plants desired by government, whereas some existing coal plants have secured capacity contracts, and almost certainly would have closed otherwise.  The policy intention since 2015 has been a phase-out of all coal-fired power stations by 2025.

Hard coal

Coal stocks and cooling towers at Uniper Ratcliffe power station, Nottingham, UK © Charles Gibson | Dreamstime.com

The UK has identified hard coal resources of 3 910 million tonnes, although total resources could be as large as 187 billion tonnes.  There are 33 million tonnes of economically recoverable reserves available at operational and permitted mines, plus a further 344 million tonnes at mines in planning.  There are also about 1 000 million tonnes of lignite resources, mainly in Northern Ireland, although no lignite is mined.  This significant coal resource base is, however, rendered largely irrelevant by policies designed to drive coal out of the energy mix and a hostile planning environment for surface mines.

The UK’s remaining surface coal mines are located in central and northern England, South Wales and southern Scotland.  Important surface mine coal producers include BANKS GROUP, CELTIC ENERGY, HARGREAVES SERVICES and MERTHYR (SOUTH WALES).  The last major underground coal mine closed at the end of 2015 and the four remaining underground mines in England and Wales produced just 25 thousand tonnes in 2018.  In March 2019, WEST CUMBRIA MINING was granted planning permission for Woodhouse colliery, a new coking coal drift mine with a potential output of 3 million tonnes per annum.

In 2018, hard coal supply totalled 12.7 million tonnes, with 2.6 million tonnes of indigenous production and 10.1 million tonnes of imports.  Russia and the United States are the main sources, accounting for 81% of all imports.  Indigenous production was almost entirely from surface mines.  The UK exported 0.6 million tonnes of hard coal in 2018.

Coal consumption in 2018 was 11.9 million tonnes, of which 6.7 million tonnes were used for electricity generation, with the iron and steel industry being another large consumer.  The residential heating market is now less than 0.5 million tonnes per year.  Overall coal consumption has fallen by 75% since 2014, mainly as a result of government policies.

Even with the current, much smaller size of the UK coal market, indigenous production does not fulfil demand.  Imports supplied virtually the whole of the coking coal market, as the UK no longer produces any significant quantities of coal suitable for use in coke ovens, a situation which would change if Woodhouse colliery opens.  Nevertheless, UK steelmakers use locally produced coal for pulverised coal injection (PCI) at their blast furnaces.

In early 2018, an end date for unabated coal-fired power generation (i.e. without CCS) of 1 October 2025 was announced by the UK government. Implementation will be via an emissions intensity limit of 450 gCO2/kWh. This policy to phase out coal from the energy market has put pressure on the few remaining UK coal producers. The planning system also makes it extremely difficult to bring forward new mine projects, despite the demand for coal.

Total direct employment in the coal mining sector at the end of 2018 was 647 (130 at deep mines and 517 at surface mines). The industry’s sole trade association is the Association of UK Coal Importers and Producers (CoalImP).

United Kingdom

Coal resources and reserves

as at 19.6.2019

Total resources hard coal


3 910

Total resources lignite


1 000

Reserves hard coal



Primary energy production


Total primary energy production



Hard coal (saleable output)

Mt / Mtce

2.6 / 2.2

Saleable coal quality

Hard coal net calorific value


22 000‑27 000

Hard coal ash content

% a.r.


Hard coal moisture content

% a.r.


Hard coal sulphur content

% a.r.


Coal imports / exports


Hard coal imports



Hard coal exports



Primary energy consumption


Total primary energy consumption



Hard coal consumption



Power supply


Total gross power generation



Net power imports (exports)



Total power consumption



Power generation from hard coal



Hard coal power generation capacity


12 300



Direct in hard coal mining