We spend a lot on renewables subsidies to cut carbon, is there a better value approach?
In July 2015, the Government estimated that the total cost of renewable energy subsides under the Renewables Obligation (RO), Feed-in Tariff (FiT) and Contracts for Difference (CfD) regimes would reachÂ Â£3.5 billion in 2014/15.
That’s an awful lot of money when you consider where we’re currently at in terms of renewables capacity and actual output after a decade of subsidy: coal, gas and nuclear still produce significantly more of our electricity than wind, wave, solar and biomass.
So here’s a question:
What else could Government so with that amount of subsidy that would still reduce climate change emissions from electricity production and use?
Well, we have a ‘cool’ idea for a start.
The typical home fridge freezer uses between 0.2 and 0.4 kW of electricity (let’s say 0.3 kW for illustrative purposes). It’s an appliance that’s switched on 24/7, 365 days a year and so we can calculate typical annual power consumption as 0.3 kW x 8,760 hours in a year to reach 2,628 kWh.
There are around 23 million homes in the UK, so if we assume they all have our typical fridge freezer, it means that keeping food cool and frozen uses over 60 billion kWh a year.
Now, because fridge freezers are well insulated, they can keep their contents cool and unspoiled for hours on end provided that the door remains closed. If you think about most of us, we probably hit the fridge early in the morning, around lunch and again at dinner time – meaning there are two daytime periods where we could afford to shut off the power for a couple of hours with no detriment, and a significant proportion of the evening and overnight.
So what if we were to shut the power off at the wall for 2 hours every afternoon in all 23 million homes, what might that achieve?
Going back to our typical fridge, we know it uses 0.3 kW and so in two hours it will consume 0.6 kWh of power. Multiply that by 23 million homes and that’s a saving of 5 billion kWh of power.
According to DEFRA, generating electricity produces 0.5 kg of CO2 per kWh. 5 billion kWh would therefore be responsible for 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
All that could be saved by everyone switching off their fridge freezer for a couple of hours every day.
To make it easier, homeowners could install a simple timer at the back of the fridge freezer – Screwfix sells a 7 day plug-in timer for just Â£7.99
If Government were to fund this, it would cost Â£189 million but save an immediate 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year without a single contentious wind or solar farm planning application.
Then again, why should Government fund it?
With household electricity costing around 13p per kWh, saving 2 hours of power a day, 365 days a year, would clock up a Â£28 saving, which makes that Â£7.99 timer look like a pretty good investment.
Incidentally, according to the latest Government figures, residential CO2 emissions reached 61 million tonnes in 2014, and so our 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 savings just from everyone turning off their fridge for a couple of hours every day would put a 4% dent in household emissions – even more if we turned them off overnight for several hours at a time.
What Government could and should be doing more is educating people, and sharing ideas like this through multi-media public awareness campaigns. Back in 2004, recycling levels in England were at around 17%, a decade later and they’re up to 43% – this is in no small way attributable to the nationwide Recycle Now campaign, with those ads voiced over by Eddie Izzard. Remember, “recycling: the possibilities are endless”?
In the meantime, and whilst we wait for ‘Internet of Things’ connected devices and smart meters, a Â£7.99 fit-and-forget timer seems like a pretty cool energy, emissions and cost saving hack.
What are you waiting for?