Powering the UK 2013

Empowering energy consumers

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  • Energy efficiency investments and greater consumer control over usage meant average energy usage reduced 12%21 from 2007 to 2012 after accounting for temperature differences.
  • Technology has improved lighting energy efficiency. Electricity demand for lighting has declined 30% over the last eight years, despite a 12% increase in used.
  • Businesses can cut energy usage with a variety of specialist technologies.
  • Over 250,00022 households and businesses have also cut energy bills by producing their own electricity. Installing solar panels or wind turbines has helped create jobs, and provided a valuable source of energy close to demand.

The fifth fuel

Fossil fuels, wind, solar and nuclear are expected to meet most of our future energy needs. However, reducing energy demand is an important ‘fifth fuel’. The fifth fuel can make a significant contribution to securing energy supplies (by limiting demand for new sources), meeting renewable energy and decarbonisation targets, and easing pressure on affordability.

Domestic energy use fell 12% between 2007 and 2012 (after accounting for temperature differences), mainly because of an increase in household energy efficiency.

For instance, the share of homes with loft and cavity wall insulation rose from 44% to 60% between 2008 and 2011. Other drivers include energy ratings for properties, growing environmental awareness, and increasingly efficient home appliances.


Lighting accounts for 5% of overall UK, and up to 20% of domestic, electricity demand.23

Electricity used for lighting has declined significantly from 18TWh in 2005 to 12TWh in 2012. This is due to the switch from standard incandescent bulbs, to compact fluorescent (CfL) bulbs, to halogens, and now to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.24

Government policy, particularly the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT), has also driven the shift. To meet obligations, suppliers gave most consumers free CfL bulbs.

At the EU level, the Eco Design Regulation on non-directional household lamps mandated replacing inefficient incandescent bulbs with more efficient alternatives, leading to incandescent bulbs being phased out.

Chart 9: Historic and forecast changes in the make-up of light bulb types in the UK; and level of electricity demand for lighting

Chart 9: Historic and forecast changes in the make-up of light bulb types in the UK; and level of electricity demand for lighting EY - Historic and forecast changes in the make-up of light bulb types in the UK; and level of electricity demand for lighting

Source: National Grid, UK Future Energy Scenarios Report, July 2013


As the table shows, CfLs use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last at least six times longer.25 LEDs last far longer than any other technology (up to 30 years, depending on use), use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and unlike CfLs, do not contain mercury and work well in low temperatures.26

Commercial voltage optimisation

Voltage optimisation (VO) is a mature energy saving technology with a long history of commercial application. VO devices reduce electrical supply voltage current to an optimal level that maximises an appliance’s potential, producing more efficient energy use.

Across Europe, the statutory range of supply is between 207V and 253V. In the UK, average voltage is around 245V, with an optimal level of 220V. This means most appliances operate at higher, inefficient voltage levels and use more electricity than necessary, which in turn puts stress on the appliance.

Commercial studies suggest optimising supply voltage to 225V or 220V could reduce electricity consumption by 5% to 15%, depending on the equipment being powered.27

A wide range of VO devices is currently available for domestic and small and medium enterprise users. Potential savings depend on the size of a home or business, among other things. Installation costs depend on the type of product and the environment it will be configured in, but commonly available domestic or SME models cost from £200 to £500. Similar but less material benefits could also be achieved through low or no-cost improvements, such as tapping down transformers, or replacing older transformers.

Variable speed drives

A variable speed drive (VSD) converts an incoming fixed frequency and voltage electrical supply to a motor into a variable frequency and voltage feed, with a corresponding change in speed and torque. VSDs are used in a wide range of devices including fans, conveyors, air compressors, pumps, and Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems in buildings.

Most VSDs are computer intelligent and can be connected to a variety of control systems and sensors. Using a VSD to control a motor means it can be better matched to a process’ needs. In applications needing variable speed and torque, such as fans and pumps, a VSD can save energy and money; reducing fan or pump motor speed by 20% can use up to 50% less energy.

VSDs cost from £20 for a simple fan controller, to thousands of pounds for devices for large HVAC systems or industrial conveyors.

VSDs are usually more expensive than simple motor controls but, in some applications, can payback in less than two years. They can also be useful in constant torque load applications like screw or reciprocating compressors, conveyors, grinders, mills or mixers, where output varies.

The role of smart meters in energy efficiency

Between now and 2020, the UK’s energy sector will invest c£12bn to install smart meters in every household and small and medium-sized enterprise.

Smart meters monitor consumption and communicate automatically with the supplier. They will enable users to monitor energy usage and spend in real-time – producing better informed energy saving. Smart meters will also enable the transition to a smarter and greener energy grid, and are expected to bring net benefits of c£7bn to the UK. 

Source: DECC https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/helpinghouseholds- to-cut-their-energy-bills/supporting-pages/ smart-meters

Distributed energy

Distributed energy technologies allow users to generate their own energy and export surplus to the grid. The UK’s most common type of micro-generation technology or distributed local energy source is Solar PV.

The number of distributed generation installations and volume of energy generated increased significantly between 2010 and 2013 with the launch of the micro-generation Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) scheme in April 2010.

As of June 2013, there were about 400,000 accredited installations with an installed capacity of 1,900MW. Solar PV accounted for 98.6% of installations.

Distributed generation is broadly deployed across the country, with significant growth in all regions over the last two years. Not only does this enable households and other energy users to minimise energy costs through self-supply and greater control, but regional deployment also brings benefits in terms of jobs and supply chain value across the country.

Distributed generation also requires fewer power plants during peak periods, increases electric system reliability, and the ability to use existing installations to provide system stability.

Fewer power plants also reduces land-use and rights-of-way acquisition costs, reduces vulnerability to terrorism, and improves infrastructure resilience.

Contribution of solar PV to the UK economy

According to the Renewable Energy Association (REA), the UK solar sector employs 25,000 across its supply chain, including 4,000 registered installers as at the end of 2011.

There are over 2,000 companies in the supply chain with an estimated sector turnover of £5.4bn in 2011/12.

UK solar PV related exports are estimated at £315m.

The clean energy cashback/microgeneration feed-in tariff scheme

Under the FiT scheme launched in April 2010, energy users installing small scale renewable technologies receive payment for every unit of electricity generated.

A separate export tariff is paid for electricity exported to the national grid, at a flat rate across technologies and sizes.

The scheme covers various technology types, including solar photovoltaics (PV), anaerobic digestion, wind, and hydro up to 5MW of Total Installed Capacity, and micro CHP up to 2kW of Total Installed Capacity (TIC).

21 Usage fell from (2007) 48,995 to (2012) 43,096 thousand tonnes of oil equivalent, Source: Source: DECC DUKES Domestic Temperature adjusted Energy consumption; ONS household estimates

22 Ofgem, Feed-in Tariff (FIT): Annual Report 2011-12, Annual Report to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, 19 December 2012, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/ofgem-publications/58860/fits-annual-report-2011-2012.pdf

23 Carbon Trust, Briefing on Lighting, http://www.carbontrust.com/resources/guides/energy-efficiency/lighting/

24 European Commission, FAQ on the regulation phasing out conventional incandescent bulbs, http://ec.europa.eu/energy/lumen/doc/full_faq-en.pdf

25 US Environmental Protection, Energy Star Program, Light Bulbs for Consumers, http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductGroup&pgw_code=LB

26 Which Consumer Reviews, Light bulbs: LED lights, http://www.which.co.uk/energy/energy-saving-products/guides/led-lights-explained/

27 EA Technology Consulting, Energy Saving Trial Report for the VPhase VX1, Domestic Voltage Optimisation Device, June 2011, http://www.ofgem.gov.uk/Sustainability/Environment/EnergyEff/Documents1/Energy%20Saving%20Trial%20Report%20for%20the%20VPhase%20VX1.pdf