If we look at the graph above, on left, (and by clicking it it should be enlarged and easier to read) we can see that in 1948 the UK used about 45 TWh/year of electricity, and that by 2003 it had risen to about 375 TWh/year, somewhat over an eight-fold increase. In the 50’s and 60’s there was much talk of electricity becoming too cheap to meter. Many economists and politicians seemed to envisage growth of demand going on indefinitely, and being met from nuclear and fossil fuel use. From the 1960’s an embryonic environmental movement started pointing out the many problems associated with such a path. They began to argue that we needed to use energy very much more efficiently, and to develop renewables.
It looks like UK electricity demand may have peaked in 2003, stayed level for a few years then since 2007 it seems to be declining. Looking at the bar chart (on the right, above) of individual electricity usage from 2008 to 2013 it shows a fall of nearly 10%. Gas use for heating and hot water seems to have fallen even more, by 25% per household, due to improvements to boiler design, better insulated pipes and houses. Oil use seems to have peaked in 1995, stayed level until 2005, then declined steadily since. This really is good news. If we can curb energy demand while ramping up renewables, then, and only then, do we stand a chance of securing both energy security and carbon reductions.
Today there was a report by Roger Harrabin on the BBC looking at this decline in energy use. Although new forms of electricity wastage have crept in with big screen TVs and the standby functions of so many gadgets, the improvements in the efficiency of others has more than compensated. So for example new A-rated fridge-freezer uses 73% less energy than they did 20 years ago. Lighting has made even bigger improvements with old incandescent bulbs producing only about 15 lumins/Watt, compact fluorescents 60 lm/W, LEDs 80 lm/W, and the best tube lighting up now to 110 lm/W and lights of up to 200 lms/W should soon be in common use.
Roger Harrabin quotes Joanne Wade from the Association for the Conservation of Energy “The figures for households are very good news, but frankly they have been achieved without a great deal of government effort. Imagine what we could do with a proper strategy for demand reduction. We have a long way to go.” Yes, absolutely!
The excellent Make Wealth History blog looks at declining materialism, which is a critical aspect of declining energy demand http://makewealthhistory.org/2014/12/18/10-reasons-why-the-future-will-be-less-materialistic/