Monday, 13 December 2010

The idea that Britain can either have clean energy or cheap energy ignores the third option: saving energy

There are some fairly uncomfortable facts in the Economist's latest article on energy in the UK, Clean and green for a price.

One is that Britain ranks 3rd lowest out of 27 European countries in producing renewable energy (one above Malta and Luxembourg). Another is that renewables account for 3% of total energy consumption at the moment, and the government has signed up to an EU target to reach 15% by 2020. A third is that Britain pays £1 billion a year in subsidies for renewables.

But the Economist article frames the situation in the narrow terms of either/or. The intro sums it up: Britain can have clean energy or cheap energy, but not both. But there is a third option that the Economist has ignored. What about energy efficiency and managing energy demand?

Mike Pepler, our UK awards manager, says,

"Savings are vital and there's a difference here between demand management and energy efficiency: efficiency is switching from a big car to a small car for the commute to work; demand management is working from home instead."

It takes time for renewables to come on stream and, since we don't have the luxury of time, it puts an added emphasis on behavioural change. This means that the most sensible order in which we should tackle the energy challenge is: (i) reduce demand (ii) improve efficiency and (iii) use renewables. As Mike says,

Doing things in this order delivers the quickest and cheapest savings, but it puts the responsibility on individuals to make decisions to change the way they live - which is the way it probably should be.

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