Running low on energy

The UK economy faces a growing problem of energy supplies as energy demand continues to rise and as old power stations come to the end of their lives. In fact some 10% of the UK’s electricity generation capacity will be shut down this month.

Energy prices have risen substantially over the past few years and are set to rise further. Partly this is the result of rising global gas prices.

In 2012, the response to soaring gas prices was to cut gas’s share of generation from 39.9% per cent to 27.5%. Coal’s share of generation increased from 29.5% to 39.3%, its highest share since 1996 (see The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Energy trends section 5: electricity). But with old coal-fired power stations closing down and with the need to produce a greater proportion of energy from renewables, this trend cannot continue.

But new renewable sources, such as wind and solar, take a time to construct. New nuclear takes much longer (see the News Item, Going nuclear). And electricity from these low-carbon sources, after taking construction costs into account, is much more expensive to produce than electricity from coal-fired power stations.

So how will the change in balance between demand and supply affect prices and the security of supply in the coming years. Will we all have to get used to paying much more for electricity? Do we increasingly run the risk of the lights going out? The following video explores these issues.

UK may face power shortages as 10% of energy supply is shut down BBC News, Joe Lynam (4/4/13)

Electricity Statistics Department of Energy & Climate Change
Quarterly energy prices Department of Energy & Climate Change


  1. What factors have led to a rise in electricity prices over the past few years? Distinguish between demand-side and supply-side factors and illustrate your arguments with a diagram.
  2. Are there likely to be power cuts in the coming years as a result of demand exceeding supply?
  3. What determines the price elasticity of demand for electricity?
  4. What measures can governments adopt to influence the demand for electricity? Will these affect the position and/or slope of the demand curve?
  5. Why have electricity prices fallen in the USA? Could the UK experience falling electricity prices for similar reasons in a few years’ time?
  6. In what ways could the government take into account the externalities from power generation and consumption in its policies towards the energy sector?