Energy conservation in the United Kingdom

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Various energy conservation measures are taken in the United Kingdom.

Much of the emphasis in energy debates tends to focus on the supply side of the issue, and ignore the demand. A number of commentators are concerned that this is being largely overlooked, partly due to the strength of the energy industry lobby. Energy conservation also has great potential, and may be able to significantly cut the size of the supposed energy gap, if early and concerted action is taken.


The UK Government cut subsidies on a range of renewable energy systems and energy efficient cars in 2015. There were fears this could make reaching targets for reducing carbon emissions unreachable.[1]


Along with road transport, domestic housing and energy use is currently one of the major obstacles to achieving carbon reduction targets. According to a report from 2008, housing accounts for 27% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom.[2] Action is being taken on new buildings through 2006 changes to the Building Regulations, and on existing housing through the Carbon Emission Reduction Target.[3] The Government is introducing The Green Deal. It proposes tying low interest loans for energy efficiency improvements to the energy bills of the properties the upgrades are performed on.[4] These debts would then be passed onto new occupiers when they take over the payment of the bills. It is proposed that the costs of the loan repayments would be less than the savings on the bills from the upgrades, however this will be a guideline and not legally enforceable guarantee. It is believed that energy bills like housing a cost people always meet those giving investors a secure return.

Domestic appliances[edit]

In the housing sector, consumer electronics and IT products are an area where energy use is expected to continue to rise rapidly. In the decade from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s electricity consumed by such goods rose by 47%. By the early 2010s it is expected to have risen again by over 80%.[5] It was estimated that, in 2004, at least 8% of domestic electricity was used by items in standby mode, representing 360 kWh and 42 kg of carbon emissions for each household.[6]

Consumption of electricity by all domestic appliances (including cooking and lighting) rose by 123% between 1970 and 2003, and by 223% when cooking and lighting are excluded.[7]

Non domestic energy use[edit]

The UK's primary policy for non domestic energy use is the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (the CRC, formerly the Carbon Reduction Commitment).[8] It is a mandatory cap and trade scheme in the United Kingdom that applies to large non-energy-intensive organisations in the public and private sectors. It use 3 main policy tools to achieve this: A league table ranking all the participants performance; a reporting regime forcing participants to keep accurate measurements of their energy consumption; and an allowance trading scheme. It has been estimated that the scheme will reduce carbon emissions by 1.2 million tonnes of carbon per year by 2020 and significantly reduce electricity demand.[9] Toward avoiding dangerous climate change, the British Government first committed to cutting UK carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels),[3] and in October 2008 upped the 2050 commitment to 80%. The scheme has also been credited with driving up demand for energy efficient goods and services particularly amongst British SMEs[10] and in October 2008 upped the 2050 commitment to 80%. The scheme has also been credited with driving up demand for energy efficient goods and services particularly amongst British SMEs.[11]

The CRC was announced in the 2007 Energy White Paper, published on 23 May 2007. A consultation in 2006 showed strong support for it to be mandatory, rather than voluntary. The Commitment has been introduced under enabling powers in Part 3 of the Climate Change Act 2008.[12] A consultation into the scheme's implementation was launched in June 2007.[9] The Scheme is being introduced under the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme Order 2010.[13]

The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) requires all large businesses in the UK to undertake mandatory assessments looking at energy use and energy efficiency opportunities at least once every four years. The deadline for the first compliance period is 5 December 2015.[14] The ESOS Regulations 2014[15] bring into force Article 8 of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive.[16] The aim of ESOS is for large businesses to identify energy savings opportunities by compelling them by legislation to conduct energy audits. The audit has to account for 90% of their energy consumption and the opportunities identified do not have to be implemented. The scheme is regulated by the UK Environment Agency who have said that they are taking a light touch to this piece of legislation, however failure to conduct an ESOS audit could see companies liable for fines of up to £50,000.

The compliance date for the first phase was 5 December 2015, and all required participants (those companies with over 250 employees or a turnover of 50m Euros and a balance sheet of 43m Euros) were required to have completed an energy audit by an appointed lead assessor by this date.


Transport continues to grow as a significant user of fuel in the UK, and along with housing, this continues to be one of the major challenges to achieving the Government's carbon reduction targets.

By 2003 the amount of fuel used by transport had risen by around 60% since 1970. While oil is the main energy source, electricity and LPG make up a small percentage. Carbon emissions from transport have almost doubled over this period. Increasing car usage, increasing engine sizes, and levels of congestion are some of the problem areas, as is increasing air travel.

Road transport[edit]

Efforts to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulates from diesel vehicles have actually led to an increase in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Current technology should allow further reductions in emissions without increases in fuel consumption, and hopefully future technology will allow fuel consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions, to reduce.

The basis of Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), also known as "road tax", was changed so that cars registered on or after 1 March 2001 are taxed according to the VED band that they fall into. VED bands are based on the results of a laboratory test, designed to calculate the theoretical potential emissions of the vehicle in grammes of CO2 per kilometre travelled, under ideal conditions.[17] This has encouraged a 21% increase in the ownership of diesel cars, which produce lower CO2 emissions, but increase particulates. Company Car Tax, regulated by the Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department, was also revised to reflect both the list price and CO2 emissions.

A voluntary scheme to display Fuel Economy Labels on new cars was introduced during July 2005, including information on Vehicle Excise Duty and likely fuel costs [7]. The scheme brings the UK into line with European Directive 1999/94/EC,[18] and aims to influence the behaviour of both consumers and manufacturers.

During the 1990s the Fuel Price Escalator was used to raise road fuel tax in an attempt to reduce vehicle usage and cut emissions. The mechanism was abandoned in the wake of the 2000 fuel protests. In the December 2006 Pre-Budget Report[19] the Government announced a rise in fuel tax, and stated that fuel prices should rise each year 'at least in line with inflation'.

From 2008, a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation is being introduced, under which petrol and diesel are likely to be blended with 5% biofuels by 2010. It is anticipated that this will cut carbon emissions in the transport sector by between 2% and 3%.

The 'Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership'[20] is pursuing the goal that new cars should produce no more than 100 g/km of CO2 by 2012. It also works in on reducing carbon emissions from commercial vehicles and in the area of alternative fuels.

Domestic shipping[edit]

Although 7.5% of freight within the UK is moved by coastal shipping and on inland waterways (in tonne kilometres, excluding crude oil from the North Sea), this is largely limited to stone, aggregates and refined petroleum. A series of reports have discussed the financial and environmental advantages of increasing this proportion. Compared to road transport, carbon emissions are around 80% less and nitrogen dioxide about 35% less.[21]

As a result, the issue is receiving more attention with, for example, British Waterways considering the potential for developing inland container ports. Blocks to the regular movement of containers include the lack of regular shipping services by reliable shippers of adequate size, and the additional handling costs involved.[22]

In some areas, including London, investment is being made in the canal infrastructure in order to boost freight transport,[23][24] and action is being taken to protect the remaining wharves on the Thames.[25]

Air transport[edit]

Air transport is currently taxed through Air Passenger Duty.

Carbon emissions from international aviation are currently excluded from UK and international carbon reduction targets. Due to the current and projected rise in passenger numbers, the sector is expected to become a major source of emissions in the future. In 1998, 123.9 million international passengers were carried through UK airports (159.1 million in total, including domestic aviation). Due to the expansion of airport capacity envisaged by the Department for Transport's white paper The Future of Air Transport, it is forecast that 470 million passengers are likely to be carried by 2030.[26]

Using the Department for Transport's 'best case' emission forecasts, in their August 2006 report the Environmental Audit Select Committee expect that the sector will account for 24% of the UK's emissions in 2050, compared to around 5% in 2006.[27] In addition, due to a variety of altitude-related factors, carbon emissions from aviation are considered to be between 2 and 4 times as damaging as emissions at ground level.[28] The Select Committee have called for a number of actions to combat this projected emissions increase, including the taxation of aviation fuel, the imposition of VAT on international air tickets, and a rise in Air Passenger Duty.[27]


Compared to 1990, energy use by industry had fallen by over 5% by 2004.

The highest profile initiative to cut carbon emissions is the European Union Emission Trading Scheme, which is operated in the UK under the 'Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme Regulations'. Under Phase I of the scheme, the UK was allocated an allowance of 736 million tonnes of CO2 for the period 2005-2007 (i.e. an annual average of 245.3 million tonnes).[29] An annual average of 246.2 million tonnes has been set for the Phase II period (2008–2012).[30]

Other measures affecting industry include the Climate Change Levy and Climate Change Agreements.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ BBC (London) 31 July 2015 AA joins protest at government's green changes
  2. ^ "Key statistics". UK Green Building Council. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  3. ^ "Ofgem Carbon Emissions Reduction Target".
  4. ^ "BBC News - UK government's Green Deal to cut fuel bills". 23 November 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  5. ^ [1], Energy Saving Trust
  6. ^ Market Transformation Programme - Supporting UK Government policy on sustainable products
  7. ^ [2][permanent dead link], Department of Trade and Industry
  8. ^ "CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme". DECC. Archived from the original on 19 September 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2010.
  9. ^ a b Action in the UK - Carbon Reduction Commitment Archived 26 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine, DEFRA, published 2007-05-23, accessed 2007-05-23
  10. ^ New Bill and strategy lay foundations for tackling climate change Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, DEFRA, published 2007-03-13, accessed 2007-03-23
  11. ^
  12. ^ Consultation on measures to reduce carbon emissions in the large non-energy intensive business and public sectors Archived 2007-05-31 at the Wayback Machine, DEFRA, published 2006-12-13, accessed 2007-05-23
  13. ^ Statutory Instrument 2010/768
  14. ^ "ESOS: Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme". The Carbon Trust. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  15. ^ "The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme Regulations 2014". UK Government. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  16. ^ "Directive 2012/27/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012". Official Journal of the European Union. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  17. ^ English, Andrew (6 October 2007). "Fuel's gold - the cost of carbon emissions". The Daily Telegraph. London: Telegraph News and Media Ltd. Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2008.
  18. ^ SCADPlus: Information on the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of new cars
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 December 2006. Retrieved 15 November 2006.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link), HM Treasury.
  20. ^ "Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership Working Group | Bio Fuel & Electric Alternatives". Archived from the original on 4 November 2006. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  21. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 February 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ [3] Department for Transport
  23. ^ [4], Transport for London
  24. ^ [5], Transport for London
  25. ^ "Sea and Water News & Events". Archived from the original on 21 December 2007. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  26. ^ The Future of Air Transport - White Paper - Annex A - UK air travel forecasts, Department for Transport, published 2005-12-22, accessed 2007-04-11.
  27. ^ a b Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report, Select Committee on Environmental Audit, published 2006-07-19, accessed 2007-04-11
  28. ^ Contraction & Convergence: UK carbon emissions and the implications for UK air traffic Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, page 18, Tyndall Centre, published February 2006, accessed 2007-04-11.
  29. ^ [6] Archived 27 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, DEFRA
  30. ^

External links[edit]