Last week I had the pleasure of helping launch the Elephant in the Living Room – a 5-year update on the earlier report Rise of the Machines that I wrote on behalf of the Energy Saving Trust. It was particularly enjoyable as I got to share a stage with someone I very much admire – Wayne Hemingway – who has done so much work in the two spheres close to my heart, namely all things vintage and sustainabllty.
To summarise the findings of the report: Elephant has taken a look back over the last five agenda-changing years in the energy efficiency sector to report on the progress. It then looks forward to 2020 to determine the size of the challenge ahead, and examines the contribution that domestic power use will make to hitting our short term emission reduction targets.
The first thing to highlight is the good progress made. The combined efforts of the energy suppliers through CERT; the great breakthroughs made by the CE and ICT manufacturers to make their products more efficient; and action by both national government and the EU has ensured that the position we find ourselves in in 2011 is more positive than we were forecasting in 2006.
Indeed, two of the ‘big six’ domestic product groups are seeing, for the first time in 40+ years, a reduction in their overall demand profiles and this is set to continue to 2020. These two – lighting and refrigeration – have traditionally been the biggest hitters in terms of power consumption, so this is very positive news. The next two – washing and cooking products – are plateauing in terms of demand, and current 2020 projections see either flat-lining or a slight increase in consumption.
The final two, consumer electronics and home computing, are still seeing rises in energy demand, albeit not as dramatic as earlier forecasts were suggesting. In fact, consumer electronics overtook lighting to become the single biggest electricity using product group in the mid-2000s. These rises will continue, 5% and 7% for CE and ICT respectively up to 2020.
As far as the contribution to our 34% reduction in emissions is concerned. We, obviously, have to take into consideration both the total electricity consumed, coupled with the possible carbon intensity of electricity in 2020. Given two potential carbon intensities of electricity – either similar to current intensity or where the UK meets its low carbon energy targets – the report estimates that the contribution of domestic electricals to helping us reach our target misses it either by a few percentage points or up to 14% depending on the carbon factor.
To conclude, I was asked, if this were an ‘end of term’ report for the domestic products sector what grade would I give it. After some thought, I decided on a B minus. We have made good progress in the intervening years, but an extra push is needed within the next 8 years to ensure the this sector fully plays its part in reducing total energy demand and ultimately carbon emissions.