These days, all we need to do is flick a switch at home and we have instant access to energy. Energy helps to keep us nice and toasty, keep our food chilled and keep the lights on, but we rarely sit and down and question exactly where our energy comes from do we? As prices creep forever upward and consumers become more concerned with energy efficiency at home, it's high time we began to understand what it is that's keeping the lights on.
If you spend a few minutes researching this on the internet you're bound to turn up the term "energy mix" over and over again. It's a rather vague and overused terms which makes our energy sources sound a little convoluted and clandestine, so let's bring things into focus. Our domestic energy comes from two main sources - electricty makes up for 23% of usage, and gas makes up 68%. The remaining 9% is overlooked and comes from woodburners and housecoal. When most of think of gas we tend to picture central heating systems and when we consider electricity we imagine appliances such as televisions and fridge freezers, but the lines are a lot more blurred than you may realise.
Our consumption has also changed a great deal over the last few decades. Namely, our dependency on coal has shifted enormously, from 39% in 1970 to less than 1% today. Our consumption habits have also changed - we use 12% less energy now than we did in 1990, largely thanks to improved insulation and more energy efficient products. Breakthroughs in technology have made appliances like electric radiators and infrared heating panels a lot more viable and energy efficient than they once were. However, there is a downside. While we're using less energy on average per household than we did a couple of decades ago, there are also more homes which means our overall consumption is actually up 6% in real terms over the same period.
So how do we get our electricity and gas?
In terms of gas, the stuff we get pumped into our homes to power our central heating systems is more or less the same natural gas that we take out of the ground. Electricity is slightly more tricky, and requires us to 'generate it' - hence, "energy mix". This is where the real politics comes into play also - although the main option of gas, coal and nuclear haven't really altered much at all over the last forty years.