Energy Efficiency: the poor man of the 'green' debate?

Is there too much focus on generating sustainable energy and not enough on reducing what we actually demand?

Energy Efficiency: the poor man of the 'green' debate?

“Wind farms powering 40,000 homes."

"Solar PV supplying X% of power needs."

"Tidal could provide enough to supply thousands.”

All of the above are claims made by the various renewables industries which, frankly, are meaningless. How much does a 'home' actually use, for instance?

Now, before anyone criticises me for being anti-renewables, I'm not. What I am “anti” is meaningless drivel, hyperbole, hype, mythinformation and general BS. I think sustainable energy means harnessing all of the different sources of power available to our island nation.

Being surrounded by the sea and with some of the highest tidal ranges on the planet, I happen to think our coast is being very under utilised for power generation.

However, this is not the discussion I wish to have here today.

Why is energy efficiency the “poor man”?

It's a bit like the 500lb gorilla in the room. Everyone knows it is there, but no one wants to mention it. The UK, on average, has an electricity demand of 25-40GW (based on observations from Gridwatch). Now that is not per hour or per day, but constantly. To put it in context, your kettle demands 2KW to boil the water for your cuppa, not per hour or per day, but all the time it is boiling the water (that's 9amps, if anyone is interested, at 220V). In the five minutes it takes to boil the water, it actually consumes 167watts. Consumption is different to demand.

So the UK demands ~40GW constantly, every minute of every day. 40,000,000,000W - that is a lot of zeros, and a lot of kettles. 

Hinkley Point C is projected to provide 3,200MW (3.2GW). The average wind turbine is 3MW (peak capacity, 1MW nominal). One square-metre of 20% efficient Solar PV, at the optimum angle is ~115W. Hopefully these figures show how many power stations, of all kinds, the UK actually needs to meet the demand.

So, if the UK could reduce its demand by 1%, we could cut demand from 40GW to 39.6GW. That doesn't sound like a lot, but 0.4GW is 400MW which is equivalent to 134 wind turbines at peak capacity (400 at nominal); or one tenth of Hinkley Point C; or switching off every coal-fired power station and never needing to restart them.

Think about that for a moment. A 1% reduction - it's nothing. That's like swapping a halogen lightbulb for an LED one, or switching the TV off at the wall when you're not watching it. Surely the country can reduce its energy demand by that tiny an amount without even noticing it.

Now, imagine if we really tried to improve our energy efficiency and made real efforts to cut out energy wastage. Could we achieve a 10% reduction? A whole 4GW reduction in energy demand? Realistically achievable? I don't know, but give us a target and I see no reason why industry, commerce, public sector and domestic we can't have a bloody good go. Even just improving the insulation in every home in Britain might achieve that kind of reduction (and save us all a few pounds).

4GW is 1334 wind turbines (at peak capacity) or 34.8billion square meters of solar PV or 1 Hinkley Point C we wouldn't need to find. 

And this is just electricity. Imagine if we reduced gas demand by 10%...


Topics: Energy efficiency & low-carbon
Tags: coal | Energy Efficiency | gas | insulation | renewables | solar | tv | water | wind turbines
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