Powering the nation – a ‘through the keyhole’ peak at households’ energy using habits

Listen to Paula talking to Winifred Robinson on Radio 4’s You & yours about the report and the issues of standby power, here

On Tuesday 26th June, ‘Powering the Nation’, the latest report I have written on behalf of the Energy Saving Trust, Defra and DECC was launched.  The publication is a summary of a much longer report that, in turn, is the outcome of a three year project to get to the heart of understanding the electricity using habits of the typical English, owner-occupier household.

The study has been ground-breaking, nothing of its ambition or depth has been attempted before in the UK.  Indeed, on a global scale, similar studies have only been carried out in Sweden and France.

The study looked at 251 homes in total.  Twenty six, or 10%, of them were studied for an entire year, whilst the other 225 were monitored for a month on a rolling basis.  Their usage then adjusted for seasonality of use as displayed by the annual householders.  The householders were picked to represent a good spread of socio-demographic types, but one limitation was that they were all, by necessity, owner occupiers.  It proved too problematic to recruit private and social tenants.

The results and insights the study has unearthed are both fascinating and intriguing in equal measure.  Although the study’s householders were, on average, more likely to be careful about saving energy in the home than the national average (86% versus 75%), the average electricity usage was 10% higher than the nationally accepted average (3300 kWh/yr.).

Stand-by power, typically quoted as about 8% of electricity bills, came out at between nine and 16% of total consumption.  Costing our study households between £50 and £86 per year, simply to keep gadgets on whilst not doing anything useful

The other shocking insight is how inefficient it seems to be to live alone.  Hard though it may be to believe, single occupancy, non-pensioner households use more electricity powering their washing machines than families do.  They spend as much on cooking as two people households and nearly as much on using the dishwasher. They also light their homes more than families.

If we own a tumble drier, we tend to use them four out of every five times we do a wash, much higher than the previously modelled average of 60% of the time.  Indicating that people potentially are not making use of the outside space they may have available to them for drying clothes, and costing them a fortune for their laundry, over £80 instead of just £26 if people just own a washing machine.

We did find a huge variation in usage and ownership levels however, both within similar dwellings and household make-up, and across the board.  One of the most startling examples of excessive use was the household who used their washing machine 1200 times in one year, when the typical average was around 300 washes.

These are a few tasters of the fascinating insights uncovered by this study, to find out more:

Click here to get a link to the summary report I have authored on behalf of  EST, DECC and Defra

Click here to get to the full report, (print out warning:600 pages long)

Click here to find out more about the database containing all the data and diary entries of the study which will be available for interrogation soon.

If you would like to talk to me about the findings of the summary report, please contact me here.

4 comments… add one
  • Adrian June 28, 2012, 9:33 am

    I was almost on the point of dropping a line to EST about the report until I found this site and the author!
    The big unswered question is why the average background consumption is 200W. If you look at the Intertek report the two figures quoted for 'standby' consumption arise from the two ways they attempted to measure it (i.e. not 'minimum' and 'maximum' average in Table 19 of the Summary report). These are 47W and 81W respectively. Where is the remaining 150W or so going?! Not mentioned or discussed clearly in either report is the role of the central heating boiler and its pump. Intertek did measure both and this is likely to be part of the answer.
    Since 'standby' power was a large part of the media message this week, this matter needs to be looked at more closely and some practical advice given.
    The top advice in the Intertek report is (a) change to A+ or A++ cold equipment and (b) replace incandescent and halogen with CFL, not something that came through clearly in the Summary report. It is a shame that the study took place between 2010/11 and could not include the revolution that is occuring in LED lighting. For 'CFL' read 'LED'! LEDs have their own colour rendition problems, but not half as bad as CFLs do. Despite the misleading CRI figures that LEDs sometimes suffer (which even CIE – the CRI test definers – accept as mislieading) LEDs do not have the underlying mercury discharge spectra lines which cause people to dislike them.
    Though the study is claimed to be the largest of its type, the data still suffers from the statistics of small numbers. Worthwhile, though.

  • Jennifer July 22, 2012, 6:30 pm

    Wow Paula, £80 instead of just £26!
    I imagine many people won't mind scrapping their tumble dryers if it means saving £54.

  • Bill Wright March 15, 2013, 4:30 pm

    Hi Paula,

    An excellent study, well done! Full of interesting insights. I have only been able to get the summary report so far, as when trying to download the full report from the Defra site it fails to open for some reason. Would you be so kind as to either email me the report, or else ask Defra if they can fix their copy!

    I'm doing a home energy study of about 25 homes, (mainly off-gas and using storage heating). I'm particularly interested in trying to allow for: Different occupancy levels; Occupancy during the day; and what proportion of their electricity appears to be used for heating.

    Very many thanks, and kind regards,

    Bill Wright

    • Paula March 15, 2013, 4:36 pm

      hi Bill

      Thanks for your comment and request.  I’ll try to send a copy of full report over to you on your email, but I will also definitely inform my colleagues at Defra/DECC that the link is faulty.

      I’d be very interested in how you get on with your study.  Are you getting the 25 homes to fill in diaries too?  That would be very useful information to have!

      If I can help at all in the study, or if you want to ask further questions about how we went about the Defra/DECC study, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly and I’ll help if I can.

      Best wishes



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