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The rise of the screens: why electricity use keeps increasing

The Energy Saving Trust’s recent report The Elephant in the Living Room shows that our growing use of appliances for home entertainment and computing means that domestic electricity use likely to keep rising – despite increased efficiency in other areas.

We are now using multiple screens at home, often simultaneously (smart phones, ipads, laptops, TVs in kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms) and by 2020 these will contribute the largest proportion of domestic electricity use.

In contrast we are seeing a decrease in energy use from traditional domestic appliances. Our washing machines, cookers and fridges are expected to consume about 9.2% less energy by 2020. So how has this decrease come about?

The event to launch EST’s report focused much on providing information and maintaining consumer choice. But a quick analysis of products against those which have a current enforced minimum efficiency standard of show that it is regulation from Europe, combined with clear labelling, that has been the answer. It is this regulation, and the ability it then gives retailers to choice edit, that has been responsible for ensuring that a fridge purchased now uses under half the electricity of one bought 15 years ago.

Although regulation is in the pipeline for items such as computers, there is no clear roadmap for its introduction for many of these products and no plan to introduce an energy label alongside the regulation.

There are also still problems with the current approach to more traditional appliances such as fridges and TVs. It is not clear that regulation continues to drive efficiency unless standards are continually tightened. There is a danger that the regulation for traditional domestic appliances will stop being as effective with the arrival of new recalibrated energy labels. After hard lobbying from manufacturers the A label has not been upgraded to reflect the improved efficiency of products,  but new categories of A+, A++  and A+++ have been added. Meaning that A is no longer best in class. The rating is also based on efficiency relative to size, so does nothing to counteract the increasing trend for bigger products that use more energy in absolute terms. This is confusing for retail purchasing teams and customers alike. And has led to A ratings dominating the market (A rating currently dominates 85% of market whilst A++ has only 0.2% of market).

So does this electricity use matter? Some say ‘no’ as there is planned to be a huge decarbonisation of the grid. Yet, as a Green Alliance paper due out next week will argue, the more electricity we use the more expensive achieving our carbon targets will be, as more power plants and wind turbines will need to be built. Cutting our electricity use will save the UK economy billions. But there is very little in the current policy landscape to reduce our domestic electricity use – the current design of the Green Deal, for example, is focused almost exclusively on heat.

Written by

Rebekah is a Green Alliance associate and freelance project manager and policy expert on green living projects. On a national level she specialises in the public communication of climate change and behaviour change policy. On a local level she manages projects that help enable and encourage sustainable living. Previously she led Green Alliance's Green Living theme. Prior to joining Green Alliance Rebekah was the Environment and Transport Policy Analyst for BBC News Analysis and Research. Rebekah has also worked for Elsevier Science in Amsterdam, for Landmine Action in Liberia and for Womankind Worldwide. For more information see http://www.rebekahphillips.co.uk/

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