current affairs energy

Coal: Britain’s hidden dependence on Russian energy

Last week I wrote about the depressing return of coal in Britain’s energy mix, and how it will make our climate change targets nigh impossible to meet. The environmental case isn’t enough to sway George Osborne, but there’s another reason to be concerned about coal: where it comes from.

Here are three graphs, all from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. First, there’s been a big rise in the use of coal for electricity.


Coal now accounts for around 40% of our electricity, but Britain’s coal production has been falling:


With domestic supply just ticking along, increased coal consumption means increased coal imports. Now, anyone want to guess who we import from?

coal imports

Yep, according to the DECC, “Russia has long been the UK’s main source of imports, contributing 44 per cent of steam coal imports in 2012.”

When we think of Russian energy, we tend to think of gas and thank God for Norway. We don’t tend to think of coal, which is why the only media outlet making the link between coal imports and sanctions in Crimea (or lack thereof) is the Grimsby Telegraph. They would know – most of our coal imports come in through the ports on Humberside.

In quarter 3 of 2013, the latest figures available, 50% of Britain’s coal imports were coming from Russia. So let’s not kid ourselves that we’re going to do anything other than finger-wagging over Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. We need Russia’s coal to keep the lights on. Even if there was no climate change, that’s a dangerous dependency and another factor in the case for renewable energy.

I think this deserves to be better known, beyond our friends in the North. Shall we make some noise about it?


  1. I seem to remember something about this – there is a huge coal transfer terminal at Riga. Some goes to Britain and some goes back into Russia, Murmansk, if I recall correctly. Very outdated handling facilities too.
    Riga coal loading dock

  2. Noise: coordinated action as a consequence of rational analysis. Build some human infrastructure. Condition one, no personal-social interests in the issues at hand below the level of main, global(so local solutions adding to other localities’ problems), long term.

    Of course, these are just suggestions, also necessities as far as coherence is concerned. Shadow think-tank, shadow decision making, shadow governance. No multiplication of bodies, issues, it either fits within or wanes by itself. Financing should be neutral, internal communication contained.

    That kind of noise?

  3. Graph 2 was encouraging we are using less in total but I agree Russia is not going to be challenged sufficiently due to our energy dependency.

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