Facts and Figures


What We Spend


The UK spends over £100 billion (£100,000,000,000) per year on energy. This expenditure amounts to £1,600 per year for each man, woman and child. This figure includes the energy used in factories, offices, schools and similar buildings on our behalf but it excludes VAT and fuel duties.

If the National Audit Office (NAO) is right, this burden on consumers is set to get worse, not just stay the same. The NAO predicts that energy prices will continue to rise in real terms for the next 17 years [1].

What might be done to alleviate such rising costs? Here are a few examples of where the priorities might lie if we decide to pursue a more affordable energy policy.


Every Little Helps?


As Professor David MacKay stressed in his book, some small actions may not be top priority. For instance, switching off all the UK’s mobile telephone chargers when they are not in use has but a small impact on electricity consumption.

Might such comments be unwise, though, if they risk putting us off other allegedly ‘small’ initiatives? The measures below may all sound pretty small. But each one would have a similar impact on the UK energy system to building a new power station or discovering a new oil or gas field.


Reduced Electricity Consumption


Energy-Efficient Central Heating Pumps

22 million UK dwellings have pumped central heating systems. Fitting energy-efficient pumps; e.g., the three watt (3 W) Alpha 2 model from Grundfos A/S of Denmark would save around 5 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year of electricity [2] [3] [4] [5]. That is 1.5% of UK electricity generated or the output of two 500 MW gas-fired power stations. This calculation excludes pumps in the heating systems of non-domestic buildings.

Energy-Efficient Cold Appliances

There are 260 million cold appliances; i.e., refrigerators and freezers in UK and other European dwellings. 18 million are sold each year, an average appliance lifetime being 15 years.

If existing cold appliances are A-rated, and A+++ models or better replace them as they wear out, the electricity saving by 2029 would be 35 TWh per year. The authors of the study note that:

‘There is the potential to reduce the energy consumption of cold appliances in Europe’s households by the production of more than six nuclear power plants.’ [6]

A comparison between refrigerators and nuclear power plants seems to be quite apt. Both types of devices are switched on all the time. Nuclear plants operate on ‘base load’ except when they are briefly shut down for routine maintenance. The one technology in effect can be considered to displace the other.

Energy-Efficient Vacuum Cleaners

With over 54 million units sold in Europe every year, the new EU rules will cut household energy bills and reduce electricity consumption by some 19 TWh per year by the year 2020 . This displaces the output of five large gas-fired power stations [7].


Reduced Gas and Oil Consumption


Modified Domestic Boiler Controls

Experienced installers report that fitting modified controls suited to condensing boilers may save around 15% of the previous oil or gas consumption [8] [9]. Such controls differ from standard UK controls. It is likely that the modification has the twin benefits of:

  • Raising the boiler efficiency all year; and
  • Avoiding or reducing mild weather overheating,

which when combined yield the observed saving. The boiler efficiency itself might rise by perhaps ten percentage points, from the mid 80s to the mid 90s%.

In 2009, the 22 million UK dwellings with gas- and oil-fired boilers consumed 380 TWh of gas and oil for space and water heating. On this basis, modified controls might be able to save up to 57 TWh per year of fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by 13 M tonnes per year.

In oil and gas industry terms, this saving amounts to 100,000 barrels/day. To energy policy-makers, it is like discovering several new oil or gas fields. This time, though, they are in our buildings and not in the North Sea.

Non-Domestic Buildings

Replacing the existing non-condensing boilers in non-domestic buildings would also save fuel. They appear to need modified, more suitable controls as summed up for the domestic sector.

Occasionally, replacing a non-domestic boiler saves over 50% of the fuel. But this seems to be exceptional. Accurate sector-wide estimates of savings for non-domestic buildings are lacking.

We need a better assessment of the saving from correct domestic boiler controls too. Perhaps some field trials?


A Multitude of Opportunities?


In November 2012, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that cost-effective energy efficiency measures could reduce energy consumption drastically by the year 2020 [10]. A typical headline was: ‘Energy efficiency strategy aims to avoid 22 power stations’.

Past UK energy policy succeeded in making gas-fired power stations and condensing gas boilers ubiquitous. A policy centred on energy efficiency needs to make the above technologies and others equally widespread. Given that energy efficiency measures are cost-effective to consumers against present oil and gas costs, such a policy would save money and reduce consumers’ bills.

The current UK policy stresses investment in new energy supply, even in measures which cost more than oil and natural gas and which are set to increase our bills for the next 17 years. If money matters to us, such a policy is very surprising.




[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/household-bills/10445392/Energy-bills-predicted-to-rise-by-700-over-17-years.html.

[2] Assuming that a normal pump operates at 35 W for 8,760 hours per year and that its replacement operates at 3 W.

[3] http://www.wee.no/doc/Gode%20forslag%20-%20pumper%20og%20l%C3%B8sninger.pdf, p. 28.

[4] http://net.grundfos.com/Appl/WebCAPS/Grundfosliterature-4352964.pdf, p. 11.

[5] http://www.rskdatabasen.se/infodocs/PROD/prod_25_5731800.pdf, p. 16.

[6] http://www.topten.eu/uploads/File/Recommendations_Cold_June_13.pdf.

[7] http://www.inforse.org/europe/pdfs/INFORSE_EU_Press_Vacuum_Cleaners_01.09.2014.pdf.

[8] http://www.ecotechnicians.co.uk/.

[9] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/3298128/Enhance-comfort-reduce-bills-save-the-planet.html.

[10] http://www.link2portal.com/energy-efficiency-strategy-aims-avoid-22-power-stations.