Electricity use will increase as we transition to a sustainable ecnomy, which seems odd becuase the headlines say we have to reduce energy demand. That’s because most of our energy systems, including our houses, are going All-Electric.
Electricity is the energy of choice for a low-carbon future. It can be readily generated by renewable energy technology like solar panels and wind turbines; it can be readily distributed through the existing grid; it can be readily stored in numerous ways, not just batteries; and it can be readily converted into the different forms of power we need – light, heat, mechanical, electronic etc.
We can see this increased demand in our houses now. Electrically powered heat pumps are replacing gas boilers. All the digital technology we use consumes significantly more electricty than its analogue ancestors. And just wait until we all have electric cars, which are set to double typical household electricity use.
So you should expect your electricity consumption to increase, not decrease, over the next decade.
Won’t that cost more? Not necessarily. In terms of your total “fuel” costs you will go from having a duel-fuel bill for electricity and gas, or perhaps oil or bottled gas if you are off-grid, plus petrol or diesel for your cars and vans, to just a single bill for electricity. And there are smart systems coming that will even let you pay for your electric car charging through your household electricty account no matter where you charge it.
What about renewables, aren’t they meant to be the solution? Renewables are the solution to generating clean, green energy, but they don’t reduce demand. Renewables just substitute electricity we generate on site for the electricty we would otherwise have to buy from the grid.
Every ecohouse will have some mix of renewable energy systems, but the most appropriate system will vary from house to house. A typical detached new-build family home will have enough roof area that when covered with solar panels – what we call “solar-max” – it could generate sufficient electricty to make your home net zero, including at least some car charging. For a terrace house you might get just enough for the household demand. For an apartment the roof is shared so the relative proportion is lower.
But the other point to remember is that the grid is decarbonising as our whole electricity system transitions to net zero. In the UK, the National Grid have instructed all the network operators that the grid must be capable of taking 100% renewable generation by 2025. That means that even if you don’t have any renewable systems on your house, the electricity you use will eventually be totally low carbon.
It’s still really important to reduce our energy use by simple actions like buying efficient appliances and turning things off when they are not in use, but we should expect our electricty demand to go up, not down, in an ecohouse.