United Kingdom

united_kingdom_round_icon_640The United Kingdom is one of the largest energy consumers in Europe, third only to Germany and France.  It is by far the largest oil producer in the EU, accounting for half of all oil production, and is also a significant producer of natural gas.  As such, the country’s energy import dependence of 45.5% is below the EU average.



General data







€ billion

 2 577.3

The UK has identified hard coal resources of 3 560 million tonnes, although total resources could be as large as 187 billion tonnes.  About 80 million tonnes of the economically recoverable reserves are available in shallow deposits capable of being extracted by surface mining.  There are also about 1 000 million tonnes of lignite resources, mainly in Northern Ireland, although no lignite is mined at present.

In 2015, UK primary energy production was 168.1 Mtce, with coal accounting for just 7.1 Mtce (4.2%).  Total primary energy consumption was 257.2 Mtce, with oil (33.3%) and natural gas (34.1%) having the largest shares, followed by coal (13.3%) and nuclear (10.2%).  Biofuels and waste accounted for 5.5%, while hydro, wind and solar totalled 2.6%.

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 for the first time.

Power generation in the UK reflects a diverse energy mix.  In 2015, gross power supply was 337.7 TWh, dominated by gas (29.5%), coal (22.8%) and nuclear power (20.8%), coal having lost the number one position in 2015.  Wind and solar contributed with 14.2%, biofuels and waste 9.5%, hydropower 2.6% and oil 0.5%.

All the coal-fired capacity that had opted out of the EU Large Combustion Plants Directive had been closed by the end of 2014.  Two UK generators have been granted state support through feed-in tariffs to enable biomass conversions of their power stations at Lynemouth and three units at Drax.

Coal-fired electricity generation decreased significantly in 2016 because of the UK carbon tax:  4.8 GW of capacity was closed (2.4 GW Longannet, 1.0 GW Ferrybridge and 1.0 GW Rugeley).  The remaining coal-fired power plants in the UK are RWE Aberthaw B, EDF Cottam, Drax, Eggborough, SSE Fiddlers Ferry, AES Kilroot, UNIPER Ratcliffe, SIMEC Uskmouth and EDF West Burton A.

The UK power generation sector has little new capacity under construction or planned.  Even the proposed nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C has stalled because of technical issues associated with the supply of the reactor pressure vessel and commercial issues with the finance agreements to fund the project.

The UK’s carbon price support mechanism 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 at this level until 2020, 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 c.€6/tCO2 added by the EU emissions trading system (c.£10 per tonne of coal).

A capacity market auction which was designed to give guaranteed capacity for the winter of 2018/19 was held at the end of 2014.  The clearing price was lower than analysts had predicted, with little appetite to build the new gas-fired plants desired by government.

Hard coal

The UK’s remaining surface coal mines are mainly located in central and northern England, South Wales and central and southern Scotland.  In 2015, all UK deep coal mining ended:  Thoresby and Hatfield collieries closed early in 2015 and Kellingley colliery in December, with thousands of job losses.

In 2015, hard coal supply totalled 34.0 million tonnes, with 8.5 million tonnes of indigenous production and 25.5 million tonnes of imports.  Coal imports decreased by a massive 14.1 million tonnes (‑37.1%);  Russia, Colombia and the United States are the main sources, accounting for almost 90% of all imports.  Indigenous production was split between deep mines with 2.8 million tonnes and surface mines with 5.8 million tonnes.  There was a significant stock decrease of 4.1 million tonnes as electricity generators used stocks built up in anticipation of the April 2015 increase in the carbon price support tax.  The UK exported just less than 0.4 million tonnes of hard coal in 2015.

Coal consumption in 2015 was 38.0 million tonnes (34.3 Mtce), of which 29.2 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.

Imports supplied virtually the whole of the coking coal market, as the UK no longer produces significant quantities of coal suitable for use in coke ovens.  Nevertheless, UK steelmakers use locally produced coal for pulverised coal injection (PCI) at their blast furnaces.

As the size of the UK coal market fluctuates markedly, depending on the relative pricing of international coal and natural gas, along with carbon allowance prices and taxes, coal imports are expected to remain a swing component of energy supply.

The UK government is hostile towards coal:  on 18 November 2015, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change proposed a public consultation on the closure of all coal-fired power plants without CCS by 2025, which raises questions on whether UK electricity supply is market-driven or politically driven.  A few days after this announcement, the UK government cancelled its £1 billion support for the flagship White Rose CCS project.

Low international coal prices, rising domestic production costs and a national energy policy that encourages fuel switching away from coal to natural gas have put pressure on all UK coal producers.  Several companies have been forced either to financially restructure or go into administration.  Meanwhile, UK producers are reluctant to invest in long-term production capacity under current policies.

Important surface mine coal producers include CELTIC ENERGY, H J BANKS, KIER MINING, MILLER-ARGENT and UKCSMR.  There are five licenced deep mines with insignificant or no coal production.  The industry’s sole trade association is the Association of UK Coal Importers and Producers (CoalImP).  Total direct employment in the coal mining sector at the end of 2015 was 1 975 (477 at deep mines and 1 498 at surface mines).

United Kingdom

Coal resources and reserves



Total resources hard coal


3 560

Total resources lignite


1 000

Reserves hard coal



Primary energy production



Total primary energy production



Hard coal (saleable output)

Mt / Mtce

8.5 / 7.1

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


19 300




Direct in hard coal mining