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July 3, 2014

UK became a net importer of petroleum products in 2013

graph of United Kingdom imports, exports, and net trade of selected energy products, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, from UK Department of Energy and Climate Change

Fossil fuels (petroleum and other liquids, natural gas, and coal) account for most of the United Kingdom's (UK) energy consumption. Although renewable energy use is growing, particularly in the electric power sector, fossil fuels accounted for 86% of total primary energy consumption in 2012.

Like the United States, the UK has experienced significant changes in its net reliance on imported fossil energy sources since 1970. Beginning in the 1980s, the UK first became a significant net coal importer following the removal of domestic production subsidies and trade barriers. With the opening of North Sea production, the UK became a significant net exporter of crude oil beginning in the early 1980s, but has been a net importer since 2005.

Rising North Sea production also enabled the UK to reduce its net imports of imported gas beginning in the mid-1980s. For almost a decade, the UK actually became a net natural gas exporter, before again becoming a net importer of natural gas starting in 2004 as consumption rose and production declined.

Even as it became a net crude oil importer in 2005, the UK remained a net exporter of refined petroleum products. However, refiners in the UK and throughout Europe face increasing challenges, including higher crudes costs and decreasing competitiveness in export markets, due in part to the rapid growth of tight oil and shale gas production in the United States which is reflected in refinery shutdowns and lower utilization rates for European refiners, including those in the UK, leading the UK to become a net importer of petroleum products in 2013.

The desire to limit greenhouse gas emissions has led the UK government to introduce a number of regulations to increase the amount of renewable energy in the country. These regulations call for renewables to provide 30% of total electricity generation in 2020. While these plans include hydropower, wind resources are central to the government's plans.

Renewables accounted for nearly 15% of total electricity generation in 2013, with more than half of that from wind. The UK is a world leader in offshore wind capacity, and last month the UK government approved the construction of the world's largest offshore wind farm, the 1.2-gigawatt East Anglia ONE project.

For more information, see EIA's United Kingdom Country Analysis Brief, as well as the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Principal contributor: EIA Staff