Home electricity use soars with “the rise of the machine”

The explosion in household appliances has doubled home electricity use since the 1970s despite improvements in energy efficiency, a new report from the Energy Saving Trust has found.

The machines filling our kitchens, living rooms and studies are already eating up twice as much electricity as they did thirty years ago – accounting for more than a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions – and are expected to use 12% more by 2010, according to the report, entitled The rise of the machine.

From microwave ovens and juicers to DVD players, the number of labour-saving and entertainment devices in the average home has almost tripled, resulting in an energy use increase that the EST describes as “deeply worrying.”

Despite dramatic energy efficiency improvements – an average fridge in 2001 used 30% less energy than ten years beforehand, for example – the electricity used by appliances in UK homes went from 44TWh to 89TWh between 1970 and 2010, and is expected to pass the 100 TWh mark in 2010.

The report also drew attention to the problem of stand-by power use, pointing out that, while rechargeable devices like mobile phones are a welcome alternative to disposable batteries, they produce a considerable energy drain when left plugged in.

Although electrical and electronic devices only consume 17% of total energy iused n the average household, they represent a large energy saving potential because energy efficiency varies drastically between appliances, according to the report.

Tightening product standards, improving eco-labelling and customer information, and taxing or even banning the most inefficient products were among the policy measures recommended.

The results of a survey timed to coincide with the report suggested that many consumers would be prepared to accept even the more drastic measures.

Out of 1000 UK consumers surveyed by the ETS, 1 in 2 backed an outright ban on energy-guzzling goods, while 93% were in favour of tighter energy efficiency rules for electrical and electronic appliances.

EST Chief executive Philip Sellwood said: “As the consumer electronics market continues to grow, further development of energy efficient products will be vital to help in the fight against climate change.

“Whether buying a fridge, MP3 player or DVD recorder, consumers should be able to make an informed choice between an efficient and inefficient model and 62% say they need more advice and information about this from the retailers and manufacturers.”

But, with space and water heating rather than appliances still eating up 83% of all household energy, the focus should remain on improving house insulation and boiler efficiency, the EST said.

The rise of the machines report can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie