No 10 and allies of Liz Truss are resisting the idea that people should be asked to cut their energy use, with the government insisting that consumption of gas and electricity is a “decision for individuals”.
With the threat of shortages possible this winter, officials have raised the option of the UK public being requested to reduce their energy usage, after countries in the EU including France and Germany were asked to cut gas demand by 15%.
People across Europe have been urged to switch off lights and use appliances less often, after all member states apart from Hungary agreed to a voluntary cut in usage.
However, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, who is likely to be Truss’s next chancellor, is opposed to such a move, believing it is not necessary for the UK and that energy use should be up to individuals.
Asked whether people should reduce how much energy they use given the high cost and worries about supply, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said on Monday: “These decisions, in terms of energy consumption, remain decisions for individuals.
“Households, businesses and industry can be confident that they will have the electricity and gas that they need.”
The government favours a plan put forward by National Grid to incentivise households with smart meters to save energy by paying them to use appliances at off-peak times.
“We support the National Grid in developing all options which could benefit consumers and help to reduce bills by spreading out peak demand,” No 10 said.
Concern about energy security has risen since a report was leaked to Bloomberg showing the government had prepared crisis plans modelling a situation where businesses and even consumers could face blackouts this winter.
Under the government’s latest “reasonable worst case scenario”, officials believe the UK could experience blackouts for several days in January if cold weather combined with gas shortages to leave the country short of power.
At the same time, annual energy bills are forecast by one analyst, Auxilione, to top £6,000 next year, triggering Labour to warn that Britons face “serious hardship on a massive scale” if the government does not intervene.
Advising households on how to cut energy usage has previously been attempted in a 1922 Committee report published in April, led by Andrea Leadsom, a former energy secretary. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee she chaired proposed that there should be improved guidance on cutting energy usage, better access to existing education and incentive schemes, and clearer messaging on money-saving ideas such as turning off radiators in unused rooms, reducing pressure to hot water taps and reducing radiator settings on gas boilers to between 55C and 65C to optimise energy output.
The committee also suggested stronger public messaging on the advantage of smart meters and pressure on energy companies to bring forward smart tariffs. Leadsom said on Monday there was a “really strong case” for these measures.
However, politicians can be sensitive about public perceptions of asking people to use less energy. Some energy bosses have been pilloried for giving tips on keeping warm, such as putting on jumpers, doing star jumps, cuddling pets or eating porridge.
In the EU, Brussels is urging governments to launch campaigns to encourage people to switch off lights and turn down thermostats and air conditioning.
Industrial users may also be given targets to reduce heating and cooling. EU governments are being urged to speed up the switch to renewable energy, but are also asked to consider delaying their exit from nuclear power or coal – an effort to find any alternative to Russian gas.
The government insists that power cuts and energy shortages are extremely unlikely. However, Adam Bell, a former policy senior official at BEIS, told the BBC’s PM programme he thought there was about a one-in-10 chance of seeing limited, planned blackouts in certain parts of the country over the winter.
He also said: “The right thing to do now is to get used to lowering our demand so we can eliminate that chance as much as we can.”
Bell said there were stages that could be gone through, including switching some industry off, then export pipelines and then homes. “But because we might be in that situation, there’s a lot households should be thinking about now, to help minimise the likelihood … like turning down your thermostat by one degree and optimising the flow temperature in your boiler as well as draught-proofing where you can.”
A government spokesperson said: “Households, businesses and industry can be confident that the UK’s secure and diverse energy supplies will provide the electricity and gas they need.
“Decisions on energy consumption rightly remain a matter for individuals and we recognise households will have different energy usage needs.”
Source: The Guardian