There’s a growing awareness that we need to be much smarter about the way we consume our electricity in the UK as pressure on the National Grid grows.
The main pressure points are going to be the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), the rise in single-person households and the need to move from gas to heat our homes and businesses.
These will create enormous demand for more kilowatts over the next 20 years and there is no easy solution on the supply side. Increased wind turbine deployment, offshore and onshore, can go some way to meet need, along with biomass generation.
But a key element in the energy mix – nuclear power stations – take up to 10 years to commission fully and may no longer be a solution, according to a recent study, which says that it is “relatively certain” that Britain’s nuclear capacity will halve over the coming decade.
Reducing usage is key
All the signs point one way – we need to get smarter and adopt technologies that substantially reduce energy consumption. And the big bonus is that by doing this, we’ll shrink both our bills and carbon footprint. This is a sustainable route to the zero-carbon future promised by the UK Government.
There is a compelling need to make sure that we make the right choices about how we light and heat our homes and businesses. And that we choose the most energy-efficient appliances. The best solutions are all there, from LED lighting to A+++ washing machines, fridges and freezers, heat pumps and other devices.
It’s true that we have seen a 13% reduction in demand for electricity over the past decade thanks to more energy-efficient manufacturing and low-energy lighting, even with growth of 7% in the population and a 25% rise in GDP.
But research by Imperial College London points to soaring demand for electricity from transport and heat sectors.
Rise of EVs
Massively increased demand is something that the National Grid is keenly aware of. In its ‘Future Energy Scenarios’, it estimates that electric vehicles (EVs) could grow more than twice as fast over the next decade than expected a couple of years ago, posing a potentially huge problem for the UK’s electricity network.
In fact, recent data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) shows that battery electric vehicle (BEV) registrations have risen by 144% to 37,850 in a year, well above the forecasts in the National Grid’s “Future Energy Scenarios”.
Its scenarios cover the range from extremely intense demand that is difficult to manage, to consumption that we can cope with. Some reports focusing on worst-case scenarios, claim that UK generating capacity would have to rise by 70% just to meet additional demand from EVs.
More single households
There will also be increased demand as the number of single-person households rises, meaning more appliances and energy needs.
The number of those living on their own increased by 16% between 1997 and 2017, to 7.7 million and 10.7 million people could be living alone in 20 years’ time, according to the Office for National Statistics.
A third pressure point on electricity demand is the need for our heating networks to be fully decarbonised by 2050, to meet the net zero target. To achieve this, massive investment will be needed in a mix of heat pumps, boiler conversion to burn hydrogen, far infrared panels and other heat sources.
Reducing waste at home
Wasting energy is just about the least smart thing we do at home and one study says that this is equivalent to the output of six power stations. It says it is “technically possible” to reduce energy demand by 25% and it could be halved in the longer term.
The study says households could save £270 a year by using lighting, heating, insulation, and appliances more efficiently. It estimates that investing in energy-efficient solutions could save the UK economy £7.5 billion with full economic benefits as much as £47 billion.
According to Jim Watson, director of the UK Energy Research Centre:
“This research proves that there is still huge potential to save energy from UK homes. It is clear that reducing energy demand needs to be a priority if the government is serious about bringing down energy bills.”
Reducing waste at work
Being smart about energy use at work should also be top of the agenda as we progress to a low-carbon economy. The inefficiencies are stark and unsustainable. For example, a new report shows that energy being wasted by “a few thousand” office buildings in five UK cities annually could power over 100,000 homes.
The Green Alliance report says that in London alone offices are wasting energy that could power over 65,000 homes, costing the City’s businesses £35 million a year. This also generates the same level of carbon emissions as 46,000 cars every year.
The study says that most of the UK’s commercial buildings are energy inefficient and overall, energy consumption per square metre has flatlined since 2002.
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