Gas consumption during the ‘Beast from the East’

17 Aug 2018
In August 2018 UKERC academics published a briefing paper, consolidating Great Britain’s hourly local demand for natural gas, providing insights into the gas consumption that helps keep the country warm.
This research sheds new light on the scale and variability of local gas demand, highlighting the particular challenge of providing energy for heating and hot water throughout the winter. Encompassing data from the 'Beast from the East', this reveals insights into the challenge of providing heating and hot water at times of energy system stress.


Action on heat

Switching from fossil gas heating to low-carbon alternatives is necessary to meet the UK’s climate change targets, a point made by the Committee on Climate Change in their 2018 Progress Report to Parliament. The decarbonisation of heat is regarded as one of the toughest challenges the country faces in its low-carbon transition, not least because of the ubiquity and ease of use of existing natural gas heating systems.

By consolidating hourly gas demand data from Great Britain’s four local gas networks companies (Cadent, Northern Gas Networks, SGN, and Wales and West Utilities) over a period of 11 months: 2nd April 2017 to the 6th March 2018, and comparing this to electrical supply, the research highlights the hourly variation in local gas consumption, revealing immense swings in demand throughout the day. The data covers the period of prolonged cold weather over Great Britian and Ireland, lasting from Saturday 24th February to Sunday 4th March, popularly termed the ‘Beast from the East’, providing further insights into demand at times of energy system stress.

Beast from the East

The Beast from the East led to the highest gas consumption of the 2017/2018 heating season, with 214 GW of local gas demand measured at 6pm on the 1st of March. Earlier in the day, National Grid issued a gas deficit warning, calling for additional gas to be made available to ensure sufficient supply during this day of peak demand. A forecast drop in gas pressure was averted as market players brought more gas onto the system and withdrew less gas from the system than was originally forecast. The data published today reveals that this peak demand was only marginally higher than that of the previous day (+4 GW higher), but there was significantly increased demand between the hours of 10am and 3pm. With many schools and businesses closed, homes were occupied throughout the day leading to a greater demand for heating, increasing the load on the system considerably – one of the contributing factors to the issue of the gas deficit warning.

The morning rush

The data also highlights the formidable challenge of delivering the necessary amount of gas to get Britain up and running on winter mornings. Between the hours of 5am and 8am there is an immense increase in gas consumption – the steepest rise was recorded on Wednesday the 28th February with an increase of +116 GW. This is by no means atypical; a quarter of all days during the 2017/18, heating season measured an increase in demand of +100GW between 5am and 8am. For comparison, the peak supply of the entire electrical system over 2017/2018 heating season was 53GW, and the highest 5am to 8am increase was +16GW.

Variability in demand

Whereas previous data evidenced seasonality and week-to-week variation, this data for the first time shows how local gas demand changes throughout the day, putting values to the known peaks in the morning and evening. This research adds new evidence to the debate surrounding the decarbonisation of heat, highlighting an additional challenge to take into consideration when planning future low-carbon heat strategies.

Decarbonising heat is key to the UK meeting its carbon commitments. This paper highlights the need for an increased focus on measures that target and reduce heat demand between 5am-8am, particularly during the winter months.

Dr Grant Wilson, UKERC researcher, University of Birmingham, and report author says:

This research provides additional evidence to take into consideration when modelling and planning low-carbon heat strategies. The sheer scale of the variability in demand was particularly surprising. It highlights another important challenge for the decarbonisation of heat and provides even more evidence of the wider system benefits of improving the energy efficiency of homes throughout Britain.

Prof. Jim Watson UKERC Director says:

This analysis reinforces the importance of further action to improve energy efficiency in our homes. This will not only reduce energy bills in the short term; it will also reduce winter demand peaks, and make it easier and cheaper to shift to low carbon sources in future.


Challenges for the decarbonisation of heat: the scale of local gas demand vs electricity supply in Winter 2017/2018  was authored by: Dr Grant Wilson, Dr Ramsay Taylor and Dr Paul Rowley.

Access the briefing paper in full here.