Offshore wind design

Environment – low energy bills send the wrong signals

Few of us like high energy bills. However, are low costs good for us? Not if they reinforce wasteful energy habits. Cutting bills should mean cutting usage. Which is why new energy pricing mechanisms are needed.

( Text content written by Twenty6 for LIC Energy )

Politicians on the election stump take a different view. They see capped and subsidised power bills as vote-winners, although the benefits are temporary. It’s time for change.

Because renewable energy is now cost-competitive, the UK’s real need is for an easy-to- switch mechanism between suppliers. This is where the Government could help.

Axing energy-efficiency schemes a big mistake

Meanwhile, by axing but not replacing a flawed energy efficiency grant scheme, the Government has missed a major opportunity to reduce both consumer energy use and energy costs.

More funding for insulation and more less energy-intensive appliances is a positive route.

Perhaps to the extent that ordinary household electrical goods should face an annual energy-efficiency MOT. Would that be vote-winner? Probably not. But it might be good for us.

Going green by cutting energy use

Supply and demand forces can work well, especially when environmental goals are given a financial value.

Renewable energy is infinitely better than the ravages of fossil-fuels. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that replacing every dirty-watt with an equivalent green-watt is a good idea. Encouraging lower energy use is more important.

Simply making green energy cheaper risks losing half the battle. Even renewables have a resource, environmental and infrastructure cost impact.

All change

One answer is technology. Another is changing bad habits. This is where price can be a behavioural incentive. How power prices are currently apportioned across society is a major disincentive.

Selling bulk power for big industry to run smelters at 6p/unit doesn’t encourage prudence. Setting pre-paid meter charges for the poorest members of society at 25p/unit generates fuel poverty.

Should energy charges be progressive like taxation? Just as tax is levied at a base rate, with hikes at higher thresholds, should using more energy become more expensive?

Nudge psychology

Would a foundation rate of, say, 8p/unit, increasing to 15p/unit in predetermined stages, nudge consumers towards more responsible energy use?

Advances in low-energy appliances, transport and manufacturing technology would support this.

Meanwhile, we can’t allow greater energy-efficiency in white goods to be optional. Because it is technically possible, selling goods with an energy rating of less than A++ should be illegal.

Ditto cars. Electric vehicles charging times have halved rapidly; driving ranges have doubled. A network of motorway charging points is beginning to emerge, albeit with tepid Government support.

Poor air quality and the light-bulb scandal

ClientEarth’s recent High Court victory against the Government over unacceptable lethal air pollution levels is a further welcome nail in transport’s fossil-fuel coffin, and diesel specifically.

A continuing scandal is that incandescent light bulbs can still be bought legally.

When most of us receive a high energy bill, we creep round the house turning off lights, reading energy-efficient appliance literature more closely, and thinking more seriously about investing in that energy- and cost-efficient condensing boiler.

What’s good for the domestic goose is good for the industrial gander.