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What happens if the lights go out?

Light bulbs against blue background

Britain’s energy regulator issued the first of its annual Electricity Capacity Assessments. Its conclusions could have wide-ranging impacts on energy prices and has provoked rumours of potential black outs in 2015.

Ofgem expects some coal-fired power stations will have to stop generating electricity because of long-standing environmental legislation. The power stations are deemed too environmentally damaging to keep operating and may have to be closed before the winter of 2015-16.

This means that the amount of spare electricity capacity in the network to keep your kettle boiling could dip from a comfortable 14% to a much more risky 4% in three years time. The risk of power cuts then becomes much greater.

Risk of power cuts

Power cuts and possible price hikes – sounds like something needs to be done. In fact, the issue of electricity capacity has been on the political agenda for some time. And in May the government published a Draft Energy Bill to deal with this (the full legislation will be published later this year).

The Energy Bill will aim to address the issue of a shortfall in electricity, the idea being that it will put in place mechanisms to secure the billions of pounds worth of investment that we need for new power generation like wind farms and nuclear power plants.

Ofgem also urged the government to make a decision on what is known as a capacity mechanism which is basically a way of ensuring a certain amount of capacity is available. Of course that’s all essential if we want to keep the lights on but who foots the bill for that investment? You guessed it, we, the consumer are picking up the tab.

Affordable energy for everyone

We want to see the government put affordability for the consumer at the heart of the reforms to the energy market. If you’re already struggling to pay your bills you cannot be expected to stump up endless amounts of cash. We will be pressing the government to make sure affordability is high on the agenda in the Energy Bill.

Domestic energy bills have been on the up in recent years and that’s unlikely to change in the near future. This is partly due to the need for investment in new power generation. And even if we don’t make this investment, prices are likely to go up due to our reliance on gas generated abroad.

Time and again you’ve told us that rising prices for gas and electricity are one of your major concerns so we want to make sure that no further strain is put onto household budgets this way. Do you think the government is doing enough to make sure we have an affordable energy system?

Comments

Trying to get people and organisations to avoid wasting energy isn’t really working. Some are trying very hard and some don’t care. (I’m no saint myself, but do make an effort.)

What I would like to see is electricity prices continuously variable so that customers can benefit from lower prices when electricity is plentiful. We have done this in a very crude way for years, with cheaper electricity available overnight.

We don’t have too much difficulty adapting our lives around the weather and despite advance forecasting we still have to plan a day or even only hours ahead.

The current price of electricity could be displayed on TV, on websites and via an app for those with smartphones. That would enable users to decide when to run the washing machine. Those with solar PV, especially retired people, organise themselves to make best use of electricity they have generated, so it should be possible for others to do the same and helping them to save on fuel bills could make it work. This system would help cut peak demand and lessen the risk of power cuts due to insufficient generating capacity.

Actually I’d say it’s not a case of “if” the lights go out but “when” the lights go out.
Government continues to dither when it comes to formulating future supply policy and meanwhile existing generating capacity gets nearer and nearer to the end of it’s operational life.
Wavechange is right in that it’s proving very difficult to get enough people to become more energy efficient to offset this, but that is more down to the incompetent Governmental approach to achieving better efficiency than anything else. It’s economics that will make more people energy efficient not half baked schemes or the hope of “environmental guilt”.
So when the ligths got out (along with the central heating pump so the heat goes off too) what do we do?
Well I have a log burner for heat. I keep a deep cycle battery (caravan battery) on float charge, which cost next to nothing to do. I bought a very cheap inverter off ebay. This converts 12 volt battery power to 220 volt power so mains power appliances up to about 500 watts can be run.
The setup can provide heat, two or three low energy lights a TV for about 6 to 8 hours. Bit better than candles, a blanket and a tranny, which is where most of us will find ourselves. In time I may even go a bit bigger with this system.
Suppose it depends if you really think the lights will go out or not?
Well I think I’ve got a bit further to go before I’m in the “doomsday prepper” catagory but do I think we will start seeing regular power cuts in the coming few years, because my confidence in Government to address the problem is not all that high.

Energy supply is so important that the political parties need to get together and agree the best way forward.

Like Chris, I can keep my house heated and lit through normal power cuts but I would not like to go back to frequent power cuts like we had in the 70s.

Every town that has a river running through it with a weir can generate electricity. Ask Bedford and Windsor councils.

Also consider electric mountain at Dinorwic in Wales. A power station built into a mountain that is the fastest to generate electricity in the world. Sluices can be closed and opened at will and electricity can be generated in 12 seconds, no other power station can do this.

My point is that when this was built, it was very expensive, but after 10 years of operation, it started to make a profit.

Why aren’t more power stations being built like this? Are we just maintaining the status quo until a disaster happens (the British way)?

Water is free and renewable and has the potential to supply all of our power needs in the UK whether it be river turbines, tidal harnesses, wave generators and general hydro (dinorwic, tanygrisiau). We have the power, we just need the inclination and investment ween ourselves off burning stuff out of the ground. However, given how our economies are entirely oil, coal and gas driven, I can’t see that changing, can you?

Hi Dean, I’ve visited Dinowic in Wales and even did a tour! It was fascinating – but the way I understand it, it’s built as a back-up power station for times of peak demand on the National Grid. Due to the way the station works (dropping tonnes of water from a lake at the top of of a mountain through turbines to generate electricity very quickly, then pumping it all the way back up to the top of the mountain again), I don’t believe it’s an economically viable way of providing electricity.

They manage to make it work for this power station, despite the fact it uses up more electricity pumping the water back up to the top of the mountain than it generates on the way down, by only using the station when absolutely necessary and by pumping the water back up at off-peak times, when electricity prices are cheapest.

Hi Jennifer,

I believe you are incorrect with one of your statements, it is actually VERY economically viable, especially compared to other renewables. The reason being that they don’t pump the water straight back up, they effectively reverse the whole system and pump it back to the top reservoir at night when electricity is very cheap. I am also unsure your point that it uses more electricity than it generates is correct. If that was the case then they wouldn’t have made their money back and they probably wouldn’t have even built the thing in the first place.

The power station was built in the 80’s and made a return on investment in 10 years which is a magnificent ROI for a large infrastructure project. Compare it to the channel tunnel.

Yes it is a backup station, but if you create say 10 of these in a grid of their own, add a Severn, Humber, Forth and Thames barrage/tidal system, plus grow river hydro production across the country for local generation then perhaps it could be an alternative. The coal and gas fired stations don’t shut down because it’s not economically viable and takes days to fire up again. Until a new way of storing electricity is created, then it will always be a demand driven economy.

Wind power has it’s place but is unreliable when there is no wind or the wind is too strong

With water you can constantly respond to demand with no usage restrictions (like wind) and if there was a large infrastructure built on this ethos, it may be valid alternative to coal and gas powered stations.

cheers
Dean

Actually if you think about it logically Dinowic (electric mountain) isn’t really a power station in the normal sense. It’s really more like a battery you charge up and use when you need it.
I think the idea is great and we should build more of them. They’re ideal for saving wind generated power for when the wind doesn’t blow, or even solar for when the sun doesn’t shine.
But best of all it would at least go some way in answering the incessant moaning we get from the anti-wind power brigade.
I’m all for wind power, free energy, but I’d conceed only really practical if produced from off shore installations where wind conditions are more consistant. On shore not so good, better to put solar on shore, also not so much a landscape changer.

PeterW says:
11 October 2012

Dinorwic is essentially a storage system, not a power station.

Moreover, it makes use of some very special geography. Few other places in the UK could be used to build a similar power-storage facility.

Yes, water power in its various forms is worth exploiting but it cannot make a major contribution to the UK’s total energy needs. If anyone doubts this, an easily readable account of the size of our needs and the contribution various energy sources could make is at http://www.withouthotair.com.

Hi Dean, I was really curious to find out more about Dinorwig power station, and as I couldn’t find much definitive information online, I decided to contact them. I’ll paste their email below, which should hopefully clarify a few things!

“Jennifer,

Thanks for your note.

1. For every 3 units of electricity that is generated here at Dinorwig, we use 4 units to pump the water back up to Llyn Marchlyn (the top lake) – so the whole operation is a net consumer of electricity. In fact, Dinorwig Power Station pumping overnight is amongst the largest single consumer of power on the UK grid system.

2. Pumped storage units are generally fast responding and undertake “peak lopping” type generation at key, high demand periods of the day only where the margins are sufficient to cover the cost of pumping the water back to the top of the hill.

3. Our limited stored energy at the beginning of each day means that we need to carefully choose the exact periods of the day that we generate taking into account the fact that we need to pump all the water collected in the lower lake back to the top overnight ready for the following day.”

So, as Chris, Gloucester points out, it’s easier to think of Dinorwig as a ‘battery you charge up for use when you need it’, rather than as a viable option for ongoing renewable energy. Particularly as it uses more energy than it generates!

Morag says:
9 October 2012

This seems to be a Westminster problem, Scotland has invested in wind/wave power and is well ahead of its 2020 target. I’m not worrying yet. 🙂

Phil says:
9 October 2012

You will do when there is no wind.

With regards to Jennifer and Dean’s comments on Dinorwic, a quick Google search states that it DOES use more electricity than it produces. So it depends on your perspective on whether it is economically viable.

In terms of monetary profit, it is viable as the cost of buying lots of cheap electricity to pump the water back up is easily off-set by the high selling price of the lesser amount of electricity generated.

In terms of the environment then we need to question where the cheap electricity comes from and how that is generated. If you’re generating say 150 units of clean electricity from water dropping but need to buy 200 units of fossil fuel generated electricity to raise the water, then there is an obvious impact on the environment.

I don;t claim to be an expert on this subject but from an every day point of view I find it a shame that we have created a system where demand is so great that there is a need to provide emergency energy very quickly, but at a potential cost to the environment.

All methods of electricity generation cause environmental damage.

Coal and nuclear power stations cannot just be switched on when they are needed so it makes sense to use surplus power to pump water uphill or to store energy in other ways.

There are two, more-or-less-parallel, issues here:

1) we need to reduce energy consumption. We use millions of kWh of electricity per month more than we did only 10 years ago, let alone 25+ years ago, when most of our generating capacity was planned and built. Much of what we use now is wasted by appliances left on standby, ‘phone (and other) chargers left plugged in but not in use, needless and – from a practical point of view – useless “feature” lighting, compulsive tumble-drying (even in mid summer), so-called energy saving appliances which actually use MORE energy than their older counter-parts (see convo’s on TV’s and Washers to name but two for details)and by commercial and industrial users who are even less pressured to use less than domestic users (see convo’s on cfl’s for more info on this one).

As others have pointed out, the initiatives to date have failed to see any significant reduction in consumption and, of course, there is a view that this is intentional since the energy companies want to keep selling more and more energy to keep their profits up (see recent convo’s on pricing structures for energy bills).

2) Our generating capacity is vastly skewed towards Coal, Oil, Gas & Nuclear, all of which are very slow to start up and shut down, so cannot be called demand-responsive; all of which use fuel which is expensive, finite, and polluting; and all of which are rapidly nearing the end of their useful lives and WILL reach the end of their (safe) sooner than replacements could be built and ready to run.

These two issues are more-or-less equivalent to two express trains running towards each other on the same line, with the only chance to avoid a head-on collision being to run one train off the tracks onto rough ground.

The use of renewables (wind and water) is opposed by the NIMBY brigade and by some who doubt their capacity to “plug the gap” – I’m not in the NIMBY camp but I agree that the gap to be plugged is massive and that the capacity of renewables may be insufficient to do the job, however I do think that it’s long past time that we stopped arguing and got on with building as much wind and water generation as possible, since they are a little faster to get on line than any other generating method.

However, the REAL solution is to reduce demand.

Josh

Until it is safe to install cavity wall insulation without risking problems, some of us will not risk installing it. As discussed in another Conversation, some people suffer from damp problems as a result of poor workmanship.

Double glazing used to be fraught with problems, but it is now straightforward for most. The same needs to happen with cavity wall insulation.

@ Wavchange and @Josh Green:
I agree about CWI: my house is unsuitable according to several builders and some CWI installers, but why is it unsuitable and why are there not alternatives out there yet?
In a similar vein, Wavechange and I and Sophie Gilbert, to name but three contributors, have boilers up to 33 years old, working absolutely fine, and have no plans to change because new ones are designed to last only about 7 or 8 years and many are very unreliable long before that. Why on earth is the Government not forcing boiler makers to make boilers with 30+ years life expectancy and reliability still (we sued to do it so it can be done) but also with modern efficiency?

We’re never going to get anyone to save energy on a significant scale whilst such silly situations exist.

I still think the way to make real savings, though, is to force commercial users to reduce consumption and to ban all standby options on every appliance: I’m convinced that those two measures would make vast and fast reductions.

Josh and Dave

I’m planning to move house and will look for a place with CWI and no evidence of problems. No doubt I will inherit one of these new-fangled, sophisticated, unreliable boilers – something I do not relish.

We need to move to having goods and services provided by a decent guarantee. In an installer has to rectify problems with CWI free of charge for ten years they might be a little more careful about doing a proper job. If a boiler manufacturer or supplier has to provide ten years parts and labour cover then boilers will soon be better designed and more reliable.

I am strongly in favour of the electrification of the railways and welcomed the government’s commitment to this [plus the new high speed line]. I just hope the power will not run out just as the new electric trains arrive, but then I expect the government has made adequate provison for the new demand.

I think it might be worth while fettling up all the currently redundant diesel locomotives [as well as the extra one’s to be replaced by electric trains] so that they can be deployed to hospitals and other essential locations to keep the power flowing. Not environmentally wonderful but they can generate considerable amounts of electricity in an emergency [until the oil runs out of course].

I’d prefer to scrap plans for faster trains and focus effort on getting people living near where they work. That would cut down on the ridiculous amount of fuel we waste commuting.

Before anyone says this is not possible, it is what happened before we had public transport and cars.

Totally agree Wavechange. Did you catch Evan Davis’s TV programme advocating that very thing the other night? Move the work to where the people and resources are instead of piling it all into London & the SE. Part 2 next Monday. Most pertinent.

Thanks John. I’m a Radio 4 listener and TV tends to pass me by. I will try to find the programme on iPlayer.

If our lights do go out and our fuel pumps do run dry then it may help to wake up the people and the politicians to finding practical solutions to using energy and resources wisely. What we must avoid is carrying on as we are and prices escalating so that only the rich can afford to pay.

To answer the question posed – We will use candles – wear more sweaters – such problems happened in the past and we got over them.

Unless the “government” starts to INVEST in a balanced long term ecological sound energy system – we are heading towards an “out sourced” disaster. Wind turbines are the future simply because the energy source is free and renewable – Hydro power equally essential.

It make me laugh – as I did research on alternative sources of energy in the 1950s – and still we haven’t a policy – except to use the CHEAPEST short term energy however stupid it is – and don’t do the long term sums.

For intermittent sources of energy – the solution is simple – Store it – either in batteries – or lakes – until it needs to be used. If the source energy is renewable – sustainable – and free – then the running/maintenance costs are balanced when compared to NON renewable – Non sustainable – and not free sources used now.

It is true that living near to work may reduce transport costs – but the reason London is so large was because people MOVED to where the work was. – concentration of industry made it far more cost effective (short term gain again)

In France they generate almost all of their electricity from nuclear power stations. Why don’t we do the same, by building nuclear power stations? A small amount of uranium can develop a *lot* of electricity. As for safety, I’m not worried. I can imagine the health and safety requirements to operate a nuclear power station are over zealous.

Maybe with thorium reactors but I think we would have to be pretty desperate to build any more traditional nuclear power stations.

@ David – there are many problems and prejudices to do with nuclear energy generation, BUT, the single GREATEST reason that this is not a viable answer now (although it might have been a few years ago) is that it takes so long to build and bring on line a nuclear power station that, even if money was no object, we could not build any (let alone lots) fast enough to cope with the decommissioning of old power stations (of any type) which will soon reach the ends of their lives.

In other words, we can’t get them up and running in time to avert an electricity shortage crisis.

I do agree with Wavechange’s response to you as well, and personally I’m anti-nuclear, but all that aside, it’s the time factor which makes this an unrealistic answer to the situation that we face now.

Possibly we could get some wind and wave generation (maybe even new coal fired stations, despite the pollution) up and running and use them to “buy time” for building Thorium reactors?

As an aside, and as if to demonstrate the ever-increasing fuekl use, I recently found osme statistics via a professional body to which I belong as an electrician, showing the standard rating of Service Cut-out fuses for domestic property. (I.e. the “main fuse” which sits before your meter.)

Until the 1940’s the main fuse was usually 30 amps – yes 30 amps – that’s what you’d now put on a ring main (socket circuit) or a very old and outdated electric shower or a very small (2 ring) electric cooker.

Between the 40’s and the 70’s the main fuse was usually either 40 or 60 amps, depending whether you lived in an area with no mains gas and therefore expected to cook and heat electric.

in the late 70’s 80 amps became the norm and by the early 90’s 100 amps was the norm.

100amps is still the norm, but for new supplies in new estates the cabling is now designed to cope with up to 150 amps so it’s clear that the suppliers are anticipating another upgrade to cope with increased demand yet again.

Some of the latest luxury homes are even being built with a three-phase (i.e. industrial) supply to them now. – allowing a load of up to 300 amps to be pulled.

Is there any wonder we are running out of generating capacity when the average domestic house is now expected to pull what a small factory or commercial property did half a century ago?

The more tI think about this the more I am convinced that the central issue is reducing demand rather than increasing supply.

There is just so much potential to save energy and fossil fuel that the government should start a mass public education campaign. As I said before, this really needs cross-party support.

I would like Which? to look very carefully at power consumption when choosing Best Buys, especially where appliances are likely to be in continuous or frequent use. I don’t think Which? should even consider reviewing cars unless they average at least 50 mpg. That might go against Which? policy but if that’s the case perhaps policy needs to be updated.

As Dave says, cutting energy consumption could buy time before we are forced to increase generating capacity. Though Thorium reactors are a better alternative to conventional nuclear reactors, the population of the UK would need to be told a lot more before we take the risk of building them.

We also need cross-party cooperation on how to tackle the rise in population of the UK. A lot of our current problems including the one we are supposed to be discussing is because we are burying our heads in the sand. It would be interesting to debate this on a future Which? Conversation rather than take this one off-topic.

The government have confirmed there will be new nuclear power stations built. What I’m wondering is: when they build a nuclear power station, can they make it produce a lot more electricity, rather than making it produce a power output similar to that of other power stations already in use?

The opening to this asks who pays for the investment – well of course it is the consumer (that includes industry) because even if “the government” pays that is still your money (from tax).
The problem about the lights going out is surely about availability of generating capacity at peak times, not a general shortage. This is where Dinorwic helps – it uses excess capacity in the system off peak to store water, and releases it a peak times to help demand. It clearly uses more electricity than it generates, but that is irrelevant – it’s use is as a storage “battery”. More of these facilities would help.
More investment in energy efficiency will help – insulating homes, better appliances, low energy lighting – but also using appliances such as washing m/c, dishwasher, tumble drier (if you must) at night when capacity will be available and cheaper. What a pity economy 7 tariffs don’t really encourage this – you need to use at least 40-50% total electricity overnight to make it worthwhile, and how many of us would do that?

I have suggested a more sophisticated version of electricity pricing so that we can all benefit from when there is a surplus, night or day. Many people who have lived off-grid have learned to adapt their lifestyle accordingly and even those who have installed solar PV panels in the last couple of years often give thought to when they should use power.

Storage of electricity by pumping water uphill is obviously valuable to deal with peaks in demand and hopefully this can be extended.

To my mind the answer is simple in the short term – repeal the legislation forcing us to shut down our existing power stations. If this comes from the EU then ignore them just like evrybody else who doesn’t like what’s comoing from them!

Unfortunately Dinorwic stores very little energy – it really is a very short term resource almost an emergency backup.
However the idea of moving some consumption to the off peak period , midnight to 5 am, is well founded ; maybe smart-meters will provide the ability to charge less/more at different times of the day.
Many dishwashers and washing machines already have a delay function so some usage could easily be moved now. The energy used by these appliances will help to pre-heat the kitchen/utility room first thing in the morning.

I’d be happier when HMG would take off the short-termist blinkers and start investing in PRODUCTIVE projects like the full blown version of the Severn Barrage and nuclear generation, instead of focussing on vote catching, projects like HS2, which are CONSUMPTIVE in both capital and revenue!
A country this size doesn’t need HS2 – it’s just a nice to have sop to an uninformed public!

Daniel says:
12 October 2012

Two points here

Nuclear is not only too slow to plug the gap, as others have said, but it is too EXPENSIVE. It has now been knocked out by solar.

WHICH? should do a propoerly researched overview of the COSTS of generation by different means, and the trends in these costs. If they did this then it would be absolutely clear that solar PV is the way to go, and that nuclear would be a disaster for consumers on COST GROUNDS alone, let alone the safetey concerns and the fact that storage of the waste is still unsolved and not coverd by expenditure – i.e. “we will pay for it somehow, when we get there . . . ”

Solar is faster, cheaper and safer:

See this brilliant story from

http://cleantechnica.com/2012/09/08/germany-added-543-mw-of-solar-power-capacity-in-july/

The punch-line is this comment:

“To put this in a bit of perspective, the Fukushima Daiichi Plant had six reactors for a total production ability of 4.7GW. In half a year Germany has installed as much capacity as one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants.

I assume though that the number is nameplate value only, but even taking that into consideration that’s still equivalent to at least one good-sized reactor every couple of months.”

In other words soalr pV can and hopefully (if we all shout loud enough) will plg the gap. Note that I am in Germany now and I hardly see ANY solar panels on roofs. That is: they have achieved the replacement of the capacity of a nuclear power station every two months or so without hardly starting at all. In other words, a full-on programme would be able to replace far far far more electricity generattion.

And I have left out CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) I think Morocco has just started on a 1/2 gigawatt solar power station . . .And it will not take 10 years to build, and x years to pass all the regulatory and planning hurdles.

So come on Which? give us a bit more beef on this.

Phil says:
12 October 2012

Germany has around 26 GW capacity solar power but actual generation rarely comes anyway near this. For a few hours in May they got 22 GW which is 33% of weekday and 50% of weekend demand but that was only for a short period. Longer term all that capacity supplies just 4% of actual demand, around 3 GW. One has to ask if it really offers value for money and justifies the huge subsidies or whether on small nuclear/gas/coal plant would’ve been a better option.

I have an energy meter and I can see how much electricity I am using at any time. However I have discovered that my house has a “base load” of 81 watts that’s being consumed all the time, this excludes thermostatically controlled items such as refrigeration.. That’ works out at over 20 percent of my total energy consumption of 3350 kw hours. 1watt continuously woks out at about ÂŁ1 pa. There are many items continuously left-on that consume small amounts of power, the length of time they are on has an enormous effect on overall electricity consumption.

I discovered that the black and decker “dust buster” rechargeable hand vacuum was using 12 watts, so that was retired a while ago. These are some of the appliances that are guzzling this power

TV according to Which? my TV uses 2 W on standby
PVR 1W
And for the following I have no idea as to their individual consumption
Gas boiler
Phones
Aerial amplifier
Door bell transformer
Clock radio
Teas made
John Lewis touch controlled bedside lamp
Electronic unit to turn on conservatory lights via a remote control
Router
Computer when turned off
Not sure if there are more hidden items.

The point I am making is that if these items were more efficient, on a national scale, then there would be a huge saving. Perhaps we need an energy rating for these small items that are constantly on. My A rated fridge and freezer together consume less energy than the items in the list. It would be great if Which? could provide energy use for such items when tested.

I wonder what percentage of electricity generation capacity could be freed up?

The problem we have now and for the next several years (probably 10 at least), is that decisions that should have been made 10 – 20 years ago by various governments, were put off.

But, attempting to get people to save energy, specifically mains electricity, is a very difficult business unless some lateral thinking is employed.

As “home dwellers” rather than businesses, we have never consumed less electricity on a year-on-year basis, even in times of recession, there has been an inexorable 1% – 1.5% increase in electrical consumption year-by-year, as long as records have existed.

I have a suggestion, which I have not seen mentioned anywhere as yet.

Defining the problem: When people make financial savings in their lives, they (or their dependants!) tend to go out and buy something. And almost invariably these “somethings” consume electricity.

We need to not only incentivise the saving of electricity, but dis-incentivise the excessive or over-use of energy.

For instance:
1) Those of us who use electricity from the mains supply, will have an electricity bill. This will specify not only the cost but also the units of electricity used.

2) Legislation is probably required to specify the next part, which would say that all electricity users should reduce their consumption over a 10 year period by 20% (ie 2% per year). This reduction is based against a Base Year (Years 0), which can be calculated from the previous bills, which are already logged by the electricity suppliers.

3) There would be 3 price bands of electrical consumption, based not on an arbitrary figure dreamed up by the electrical suppliers, but based on the Year 0 units of electricity used for each house.

4) The bands could be as follows:
Low Rate: In Year 1, for each unit of electricity used below the the 98% Year 0 units used, the bill payer would receive a rebate of 2-3 units value.
Normal Rate: In Year 1, for units of between 98% and 100% of the previous year (Year 0), the standard rate would apply.
High Rate: In Year 1, for each unit above 100% of Year 0, the cost would be 4-6 times the Standard Rate.

5) Each successive year the percentage rate of the standard cost of electricity against Year 0 would fall, so in Year 2 the reduction in usage would be 96% of Year 0, Year 3 = 94% of Year 0, etc.

This would mean a real incentive for people to reduce the units they use.

I’m sure there are a number of gaps in this method but I feel it would be a starting point

Whilst we do need to move away from polluting coal fired power stations, why are we keeping to a 2015 deadline to close the few we have, when the Chinese are building a new one every week! It’s crazy causing ourselves shortages when globally our pollution is a drop in the ocean compared to that which China will soon be producing.

We are closing down polluting power stations because we are able to do this and it is worth doing.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much control over what China gets up to, though we are doing our best to support their economy by buying products they make.

The problem with having penalty charges for increasing consumption is that someone may already be a careful user, and someone else more profligate, but they would both be penalised.
Encouraging reduced consumption by insulation, low energy products, switching to night-time consumption where possible, with incentives, would both save maximum demand and overall consumption. When the supplier allows financing insulation, for example, out of bill savings seems a reasonable way. The same could be done to change your inefficient 33 year old boiler, fit thermostatic valves on all your radiators or to replace electric storage heating. But to many people this will only make sense if the capital cost is more than offset by the savings over a reasonable period. The government could help by making these changes vat-free?
We mustn’t forget that industry is one of the biggest users of energy. They are penalised for using too much energy in peak periods, and I think get capital allowances for more enegy efficient equipment and processes.

I take your point about careful users and profligate ones, but the point is the individual user is more likely to be careful – I think it is a fact of life that a house with a number of people in it will be more likely to use electricity inefficiently, as only one of them has an incentive not to use so much – the bill payer. This is where the “stick” will work and the “carrot” of the saving should help the individual who is doing their best.
Smart internal metering might be used – ie sensors that tell if lights are on in an empty room, etc.
None of the options are perfect, or cheap.
The problem we have is having had very cheap energy in the past, we have to change our priorities. The same applies to food and many other things.

Human GREED and STUPIDITY is the problem especially that of our polititians who all knew that wind farms were just a sop to the green lobby [which I support].

Surely the question:

‘Do you think the government is doing enough to make sure we have an affordable energy system?’

is a bit naive; a no brainer, they’re just thinking about the next election and how to fulfill the greed of the populace!

All options cost the taxpayer { benefits cover energy use} and look at the brouhaha about cutting winter fuel payments just for the rich.

Nobody knows the outcomes of any solution to the energy usage problem.

But what is the real problem? Not fear of freezing to death other than its the polititians fear of being accused of letting people freeze to death.

No the real problem is that the country uses too much energy that it cannot afford and which damages the environment. That is – human greed and stupidity.

The solutions:

Clearly providing insentives like prizes for low energy users and subsidies on fleecy jackets would help.

But most of all the answer lies in constraints on human greed such as:

A BAN ON CENTRAL HEATING!

If you’re cold put another jumper on and run on the spot for two minutes!

You know I’m right; turn that thermostat right down now, this instant!

The only thing that should be at the heart of the reforms in the energy market is how to encourage sensible use of scarce and damaging energy. How about making the first part of anyone’s energy use free, then charging progressively more as people use more?
That would encourage us all to be more efficient in how we use energy, while recognising we are all addicted to it and have a basic need for it.
At the same time people need to understand why this is important. Carbon-based energy is driving climate change which will make the world an unimaginably horrible place for our children and grandchildren – this is happening very fast. We can do something about this now, but most governments including the UK’s seem to think the economic crisis needs to be tackled first, then get back to business as usual, then maybe think about switching to renewables. We don’t have the luxury of time for this!

While a progressive charge sounds a good idea it cant be achieved on a per person basis only on a per household basis.
This penalises larger ( often more efficient) households in comparison to a single person households.

Simon Ross says:
12 October 2012

I would like Which to launch a campaign against the uneconomic government subsidies of green energy, which is a mis-allocation of scarce resources and is going to affect all consumers of electricity with unnecessary additional burden on their bills.