United Kingdom (2013)

Degree of reliance on imported energy: 

The UK remains a net exporter of oil products, though the level of net imports of crude oil result in the UK being a net importer of oil. In 2011 36% of energy use in the UK was imported, up sharply from the 2010 level as North Sea oil and gas output fell following adverse weather conditions as well as a number of maintenance issues.

The country has been a net importer of hydrocarbons since 2005 and domestic production is expected to decline by half from 2010 to 2020.

Main sources of Energy: 

Since industrialisation, the United Kingdom has relied heavily on fossil fuels for the bulk of its energy supply. This is by and large still the case today, but change is coming.

In 2011, bioenergy accounted for 77.1% of renewable energy sources used, with most of the remainder coming from large-scale hydro and wind generation. Wind (with a 15.4 % share) accounted for around three times the shares of large scale hydro (4.9%) in primary input terms.

Of the 8.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent of primary energy use accounted for by renewables, 6.3 million tonnes was used to generate electricity, 1.2 million tonnes was used to generate heat, and 1.1 million tonnes was used for road transport. Renewable energy use grew by 15.0% between 2010 and 2011 and is now nearly three and a half times the level it was at in 2000.

Mounting evidence of potentially damaging anthropogenic climate change has prompted political parties to broadly agree on the need to decarbonise the energy system. The government has laid out ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions up to 2050 and mapped pathways to a low-carbon future. Greening the economy is seen as an opportunity for creating jobs and growth. As public expenditure remains severely constrained in the coming years, the government aims to catalyse private sector investment in new infrastructure and in energy efficiency.

As part of its EU obligations, the United Kingdom must obtain 15% of its final gross energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020, more than four times the share in 2010. Electricity is expected to contribute most to meeting this target, although the country has also introduced incentives for heat and obligations for transport fuels.


United Kingdom

Capacity concerns: 

The electricity sector is a focus area of the decarbonisation efforts. The government has clearly indicated its intent to deploy three low-carbon technology pathways: renewable sources, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

In the United Kingdom, around 12GW of coal and oil-fired capacity and 7 GW of ageing nuclear power capacity are scheduled to close by the end of this decade. Combined, they account for a fifth of the country’s total capacity. An efficient mix of new, cleaner generation, more efficient use of existing infrastructure and more flexible demand will be needed. Ofgem, the energy-sector regulator, estimates that around GBP 110 billion needs to be invested in plants and networks.

Potential for Renewable Energy: 

The resource potential for renewable electricity sources is commensurate with electricity demand projections that in some scenarios reach over 500 TWh by 2050 (i.e. if resource potential were the only consideration, sector decarbonisation based wholly on renewables would be feasible).

Onshore Wind

Estimates of the resource potential for onshore wind typically include judgments about limited public acceptability of this technology.

An assessment on this basis is that it could provide around 80 TWh/year (i.e. around 15% of projected 2030 demand).

Offshore Wind

Offshore wind resource is estimated to be over 400 TWh/year, with significant potential for generation around Scotland and the East and West coasts of England.


The UK has significant potential for wave, tidal stream and tidal range generation. The practical potential for wave energy is considered to be 40 TWh/year, while that for tidal range exploitation around the UK (including the Severn) is also estimated at around 40 TWh/year10. The tidal stream resource is the most uncertain of the marine resources due to uncertainty around the correct physical estimation methodology, with estimates ranging from 18-200 TWh/year.


There is significant resource potential for solar photovoltaic (PV) generation in the UK (e.g. around 140 TWh/year based on the resource potential from south-facing roofs and facades), although this currently appears to be a very expensive option. There is also the option to import solar power produced in Europe and possibly North Africa, using PV or concentrated solar power (CSP). In the longer term, imported solar power could make a significant contribution to meeting electricity demand in the UK to the extent this is not problematic from a security of supply perspective.


There could in principle be a substantial resource from sustainable bioenergy, but the extent to which this can be used in the power sector will depend on competing demands from other sectors

Potential for Energy Efficiency: 

Through to 2020 across all sectors of the economy, an economically-feasible potential energy saving of 196 TWh is possible. Were all this potential to be realised, an 11% reduction in final energy consumption by 2020 is possible, compared to a business-as-usual scenario. As of 2011, the transport and residential sectors contributed most to final energy consumption in the United Kingdom, with 31.9% (40,308 ktoe) and 28.3% (35,792 ktoe) respectively. Fuel efficiency of passenger cars is a key factor in the energy efficiency strategy for the transport sector, with 18% of the savings of the UK’s current 9% energy reduction target under the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan slated to come from the sector. Market mechanisms and emissions trading schemes are the predominant measures in the industrial and tertiary sectors, with the “Green Deal” institute by the current Coalition Government enabling energy efficiency retrofitting in homes and businesses. However, no minimum energy performance standards or firm targets for the sectors are defined under the current NEEAP.


The liberalisation and privatisation of the energy markets in the United Kingdom began with the Margaret Thatcher Government in the 1980s (often called the Thatcher-Lawson agenda, due to the key role of Nigel Lawson in the Thatcher government cabinet).  The sector structure had been under complete public ownership since 1947 when the Labour government had nationalised more than 570 public and private bodies involved in the generation and distribution of electricity. Thatcher’s vision was to achieve economic efficiency through privatisation and dividing the Central Electricity Generation Board (CEGB) into different utilities in charge of power generation and transmission.

Nowadays, the called Big Six Energy Suppliers are Britain's largest energy companies, supplying gas and electricity to over 50 million homes and businesses in the UK, with over 90% share of domestic customers.

The Big Six tend to be the oldest energy companies, having been created with the privatisation of the energy sector in 1990, they continue to dominate energy market in the United Kingdom. The Big Six are Centricia-owned British Gas, French company EDF Energy, E.ON UK, Germany-owned N.Power, Scottish Power and SSE.

According to SERIS, the ‘Big Six’ generators control around three-quarters of the UK generating capacity and control 96% of all residential electricity supply. Only three out of the ‘Big Ten’ generators in the UK are owned by British companies and seven are owned and controlled by foreign shareholders. On the generating side only 25% of UK energy is generated by British owned corporates. Whilst foreign companies generate 2/3rds of the UK’s onshore wind farms, 2/3rds of UK generating capacity is owned by European countries other than the UK and 51% of their offshore wind farms and 70% of the nuclear sector is foreign-owned. There are many smaller energy companies like Ecotricity, OVO Energy and Good Energy.

The National Grid is the high-voltage electric power transmission network in Great Britain, connecting power stations and major substations and ensuring that electricity generated anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales can be used to satisfy demand elsewhere. There are also undersea interconnections to northern France (HVDC Cross-Channel), Northern Ireland (HVDC Moyle), the Isle of Man (Isle of Man to England Interconnector), the Netherlands (BritNed) and the Republic of Ireland (EirGrid).

On the breakup of the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1990, the ownership and operation of the National Grid in England and Wales passed to National Grid Company plc, later to become National Grid Transco, and now National Grid plc. In Scotland the grid split into two separate entities, one for southern and central Scotland and the other for northern Scotland, connected by interconnectors to each other. The first is owned and maintained by SP Energy Networks, a subsidiary of Scottish Power, and the other by SSE. However, National Grid plc. remains the System Operator for the whole UK Grid.

Structure / extent of competition: 

Full competition was introduced into Britain’s electricity retail market in 1999. Since then domestic and non-domestic consumers have been able to shop around for their electricity supplier.

Suppliers buy energy from the wholesale market or directly from generators and arrange for it to be delivered to the end consumer. They set the prices that consumers pay for the electricity that they use

Starting in the 1990s, the supply of electricity and gas to end consumers in the UK has been unbundled from the rest of the industry. At the time of privatisation, British Gas and one regional Public Electricity Supplier (PES) held a monopoly on supplying all domestic gas and electricity consumers respectively in Great Britain. Between 1996 and 1999, domestic energy consumers gradually got the freedom to choose their supplier, and finally in May 1998, the domestic gas market was fully opened to competition, closely followed by the domestic electricity market in May 1999.

The UK unbundled generation, transmission, distribution and retail, privatised the companies, and, later, created markets for wholesale electricity and for retail sales.  However, concentration and vertical integration have been the key strategies for private companies. The vertical unbundling has been reversed by them, with generators and distributors merging to provide long-term security for both sides. At the same time there has been horizontal concentration through mergers, to increase market power.

Existence of an energy framework and programmes to promote sustainable energy: 

The Climate Change Act 2008

This act was introduced in 2008. It introduced a range of powers for the government to implement emission trading schemes and introduce incentives for household waste. In addition the act “puts in place a legally binding agreement target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050”. The act also commits the government to report at least every 5 years on the risks of climate change in the UK, and how they plan to address each risk.

The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan

The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan is a strategy that addresses how the government will achieve its ambition of a 34% cut on carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2020. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change the act sets out a number of targets concerning renewable energy:

  • 40% of electricity will be from low-carbon sources, from renewables, nuclear and clean coal
  • At least 1.2 million people will be in green jobs
  • Cars will emit up to 40 % less carbon
  • Wave Hub energy testing centre built in Cornwall in 2011.

The Kyoto Protocol

UK has signed up to this international agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. The target level of emissions was set by each participant in the agreement with the UK choosing a 12.5 % reduction by 2010 as their objective. According to the Energy Saving Trust (2009a) countries can meet their targets by:

  • reducing emissions from their own country
  • trading their emissions allowances with other countries under the protocol
  • implementing projects that will reduce emissions in other countries, earning emissions credits.

Ambitious minimum performance requirements (in terms of carbon emissions) for new buildings were introduced in 2010 and will be gradually made stricter so that by 2016, all new-built dwellings will be zero-carbon.

The Green Deal

The Green Deal is Government's flagship environmental policy, aiming to drive energy efficiency improvements in millions of UK homes and businesses at low or no up-front cost to the customer. The Green Deal is an innovative financing mechanism that lets people pay for energy-efficiency improvements through savings on their energy bills  to both the domestic and non-domestic sector.

Launched in January 2013, it is hoped that the scheme will catalyse billions of pounds of investment annually and create many thousands of jobs. With over 40% of the UK’s emissions coming from the existing UK building stock, the Green Deal also stands to play a vital role in helping the Government achieve its carbon emissions reduction targets. But, a formal assessment of the Green Deal published in January 2014 found that only 76,6485 households  have been assessed between launch and September 2013, and that between 58,000 and 64,000 had installed at least one recommended measure, or definitely/probably intended to install one.

The Green Deal replaces current policies such as the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) and the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). The government has appointed a Green Deal Registration and Oversight Body. Part of their role is to register the organisations that are approved to deliver the Green Deal – Advisors, Providers and Installers.

There are 45 measures or areas of home improvement approved to receive funding under the Green Deal, covering:

  • insulation
  • eating and hot water
  • glazing
  • microgeneration (generating your own energy).

For the non-domestic sector lighting, mechanical ventilation and heat recovery measures can also be covered. More areas may be added as technology develops.


The Government is supporting market growth for ultra-low emission vehicles (including technologies such as electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in hybrid technology), providing £300 million in consumer incentives and worth up to £5000 per car. It is anticipated that average new car emissions would need to be 50-70 gCO2/km and 75-105 gCO2/km for new vans by 2030. The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) obligates fossil fuel suppliers to produce evidence that a percentage of fuels for road transport supplied in the UK come from renewable sources and are sustainable.

Energy prices and taxes

The UK introduced the Climate Change Levy, (a tax on the business use of fossil fuel energy) in 2001. Companies that are part of Climate Change Agreements (CCAs) and which successfully meet the conditions of their agreement are eligible for a 65% discount on the levy as of 1st April 2011. From 1st April 2013, the rate will be raised at 80% for electricity. Under the Energy Act 2010 energy companies are required to make available around € 345 million by 2013-14 on social support to support tackling fuel poverty by lowering energy bills of the most vulnerable consumers.

Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

The RHI aims to support those who install the technology to generate renewable heat via the introduction of financial incentives. The proposal aims to provide “an investment rate of return of 12% across all technologies (air and ground-source heat pumps, solar thermal, biomass boilers, renewable combined heat and power, use of biogas and bioliquids, and the injection of biomethane into the natural gas grid) and 6% for solar thermal” (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2009).  The RHI has been launched  in November 2011 with a scheme for the non-domestic sector that provides payments to industry, businesses and public sector organisations.  An household scheme is planned to be opened in spring 2014.

Current energy debates or legislation: 

The UK government’s Electricity Market Reform (EMR) programme represents the single biggest change to the country’s electricity market in a generation.  It has significant implications for generators, suppliers, developers and consumers of electricity from both traditional (fossil) and renewable fuel sources, as well as for those considering financing some of the estimated £110 billion worth of new generation, transmission and other assets envisaged by EMR.

The development of EMR has been underway for nearly three years. Even so, considerable uncertainty remains as to the precise scope and impact of the reforms, most of which will not be implemented before at least 2014.  

EMR is a multi-faceted reform programme, but at its heart lie three broad objectives sometimes referred to as the “three Cs”:

  • Carbon (i.e., decarbonisation – facilitating low carbon electricity generation such as nuclear power, and more renewables)
  • Continuity (comprising security of supply, bridging the "electricity gap”, and the problems created by the inflexibility of nuclear power and the intermittency of renewable power sources such as wind and solar)
  • Cost (keeping the cost of electricity supply to consumers as affordable as possible).

As part of its EU obligations, the United Kingdom must obtain 15% of its final gross energy consumption from renewable energy sources by 2020, more than four times the share in 2010. Electricity is expected to contribute most to meeting this target, although the country has also introduced incentives for heat and obligations for transport fuels. This incremental power generation will be primarily wind, although biomass will also have a significant role; the United Kingdom has a significant wind resource and is already the world leader in installed offshore wind power capacity.

In government estimates, wind power generation would increase by 65 terawatt-hours (TWh), or more than sevenfold, from 2010 to 2020, which in practice means erecting several thousand wind turbines on- and offshore, building the network connections for them and ensuring that other forms of power supply or demand reduction are available when wind does not blow. All of this has stirred a lively debate about cost and public acceptance.

Major energy studies: 

Research Atlas

UKERC's Research Atlas is an information resource for current and past UK energy research and development activity. The online database has information on energy-related research capabilities in the UK and a series of energy roadmaps showing research problems to be overcome before new technologies can be made commercially viable.

National Energy Research Network (NERN)

The National Energy Research Network (NERN) is open to all energy researchers and other sectors, including business, and provides updates on news, jobs, events, opportunities and developments across the energy field in the form of a weekly newsletter

Role of government: 

Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC)

The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) works to make sure the UK has secure, clean, affordable energy supplies and promote international action to mitigate climate change.  Among other duties, it is responsible for:

  • energy security – making sure UK businesses and households have secure supplies of energy for light and power, heat and transport
  • action on climate change – leading government efforts to mitigate climate change, both through international action and cutting UK greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 (including by sourcing at least 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020)
  • renewable energy – sourcing at least 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020

Government agencies in sustainable energy: 

Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.

Strategic Priorities

In fulfilling this role its focus is to:

  • Provide independent advice to Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change.
  • Monitor progress in reducing emissions and achieving carbon budgets
  • Conduct independent analysis into climate change science, economics and policy
  • Engage with a wide range of organisations and individuals to share evidence and analysis.

UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC)

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) carries out world-class research into sustainable future energy systems. It is the hub of UK energy research and the gateway between the UK and the international energy research communities. The Centre was established following a recommendation made by the Chief Scientific Advisor’s Energy Research Review Group’s 2002 report.  Broadly, the report recommended setting up a new Energy Research Centre to:

  • Bring together Government, industry and academia
  • Be a networking centre to co-ordinate UK research, facilitate industry collaboration and promote UK participation in international projects
  • Be a centre of excellence in its own right
  • Help maximise returns from research investment and leverage private sector funds.

UKERC is funded by Research Councils UK Energy Programme.

Energy planning procedures: 

The UK transmission system operator, National Grid, produces multiple network development scenarios each year, which are subject to annual stakeholder consultation. Market simulation and grid planning, following the scenario consultations, is the conducted by the TSO internally, the results of which are published as an annual Electricity Ten Year Statement. If an ETYS coincides with a Revenue Incentives Innovation Outputs price control assessment, the results of the ETYS form the basis of the TSO’s RIIO business plan, which is then submitted to the national energy regulator, Ofgem, for approval. Ofgem then performs a further stakeholder consultation, and alters or directly approves the methodology and results of both plans. All options under the ETYS and RIIO are legally non-binding.

In Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Electricity, the TSO for the region, works to five-year investment plans proposed by NIE and ratified by Ofgem.

Energy regulator Date of creation: 

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem), supporting the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (GEMA), is the government regulator for the electricity and downstream natural gas markets in Great Britain. It was formed by the merger of the Office of Electricity Regulation (OFFER) and Office of Gas Supply (Ofgas).

Degree of independence: 

Ofgem is the independent economic regulator for the gas and electricity markets in Great Britain.

Regulatory framework for sustainable energy: 

The Electricity Act 1989, c.29

In parallel, specific goals relating to renewable energy have been established. While the Electricity Act 1989 introduced the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation, which encouraged growth in the renewables energy industry, the targets established since imply a completely different level of ambition. By 2008, the UK had signed up to deliver its share of an EU renewables target for 2020. This will see the UK deliver 15% renewable energy across the electricity, heat and transport sectors, implying some 30% renewable electricity.

  • The Feed-in Tariffs (Specified Maximum Capacity and Functions) Order 2010, No. 678
  • The Renewables Obligation Order 2009, No. 785
  • The Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Order 2009, No. 140
  • The Renewables Obligation (Northern Ireland) Order 2009, No. 154
  • The Finance Act 2000, c.17
  • Climate Change Levy (General) Regulations 2001, No 838
  • The Utilities Act 2000, c.27
  • The Energy Act 2008, c. 32
  • The Energy Act 2004

The Act establishes Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) adjacent to the UK`s territorial waters - taking into consideration the rights of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 –, creating a comprehensive legal framework for off-shore energy projects. The Energy Act 2004, beyond regulating the RES-E projects in the REZ, facilitates a streamlining of the consent process within the REZ and inshore waters.

Support Schemes

Tradable Quota Scheme- Under the quota system, electricity suppliers of more than 5 MW are obliged under the Renewables Obligation Orders to supply a certain proportion of electricity from renewable sources to their customers.

Feed-in Tariff -Accredited producers whose systems have a capacity of less than 5 MW can sell their electricity at fixed tariff rates established by the Gas and Electricity Market Authority (Ofgem).

Climate Change Levy-Commercial and industrial users of traditional energy sources are subject to a Climate Change Levy (CCL), a tax on the consumption of fossil energy.

Regulatory roles: 

The Authority's powers and duties are largely provided for in statute (such as the Gas Act 1986, the Electricity Act 1989, the Utilities Act 2000, the Competition Act 1998, the Enterprise Act 2002 and the Energy Act 2004, the Energy Act 2008 and the Energy Act 2010) as well as arising from directly effective European Community legislation. Duties and functions concerning gas are set out in the Gas Act and those relating to electricity are set out in the Electricity Act.

Its primary duty is to protect the interests of consumers, where possible by promoting competition. The Authority‘s main objective is to protect existing and future consumers' interests in relation to gas conveyed through pipes and electricity conveyed by distribution or transmission systems. Consumers' interests are their interests taken as a whole, including their interests in the reduction of greenhouse gases and in the security of the supply of gas and electricity to them.

Role of government department in energy regulation: 

Ofgem is governed by the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (GEMA), who set overall price controls and enforcement measures for the gas and electricity system. The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) also has a measure of involvement in energy regulation, being responsible for processing new planning applications for electricity generation infrastructure over 50 MW onshore, and over 100 MW offshore. They also administer planning applications for new transmission lines of or above 132 kV.

Regulatory barriers: 

The Government needs to implement regulatory reform in grid and planning to avoid £2bn in grid transmission network upgrades and reduce lead time by 2-5 years.  Offshore wind power will need to become a more attractive investment for industry to deploy it at scale. A change in the policy framework is required to reduce offshore wind power costs and to provide developers sufficient returns with an efficient incentive mechanism. Changes also need to be made to remove the regulatory barriers to deploying 29GW of offshore wind (and 11GW of onshore wind) by 2020.


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