Cold weather boosts December energy use in UK

* PLEASE NOTE - special charts showing electricity usage and weather *

This morning’s industrial output showed that the recovery is on track – manufacturing output was broadly flat.

The real story was the jump in energy consumption – which boosted total industrial output – as a result of the cold weather. This chart shows the jump in energy use as reported in the ONS output data.

Index of Production, UK from Timetric

We have access to near real time electricity usage data for GB. The chart below shows this for the last two winters. It clearly shows how much more was used in December 2010 than the corresponding period in 2009. You can spot the dates by rolling over the chart but there is an easier way! Between Christmas and early January there is a dip in electricity usage as many businesses close down for the extended holiday. That is easy to see. The period just ahead of that – the bulk of December – is much higher in 2010 than 2009. Peak usage was about 10% higher.

Electricity Usage, GB from Timetric

As the ONS says – and we all remember – it was cold in December. We have looked at the daily temperatures in Edinburgh, the major city that got it worse than most in the UK. The average temperature was 1.6C in December 2009 and -2.1C in December 2010. (Temperatures as measured every half hour at the airport.) The pattern was reflected over the country but here is the chart showing Edinburgh’s figures (smoothed) for the two Decembers:

Temperature comparison, Edinburgh, December 09/10

This chart shows the temperature over the last year and a half in Edinburgh. Scroll over the chart and you can see the temperature for each day – it was clearly colder in December 2010 than in the year before.

Ambient temperature at Edinburgh International Airport, United K… from Timetric

This chart shows the same data but for London (well, Stansted airport!). Once again December 2010 saw more lower and fewer higher temperatures:

Ambient temperature at London Stansted International Airport, Un… from Timetric

For what it is worth, January this year was 4 degrees C warmer in Edinburgh than January 2010 so, to the extent that Edinburgh is representative, electricity output ought to fall when the next month’s figures are released. This is a reminder that we must look at the underlying growth rates to get our steer on what is going on in the economy at large.

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