“How much energy will we need to power our cities in the future? Where will that energy come from? How will it be distributed, stored and accessed?”
These are the questions asked by a new report published by Smart Energy GB, which reveals the changing future energy demands of eleven major British cities. The Powering future cities report, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), is the first time that predictions about future increases in energy demand in the UK have been analysed and published on a city level.
Smart Energy GB, dubbed “the voice of the smart meter rollout,” aims to help UK residents understand smart meters, the national rollout and how to use their new meters to get their gas and electricity under control. Using the more than 3.5 million smart meters already installed in Great Britain, useful data is already being generated to analyse consumption patterns and consider future demand solutions.
Cebr, an independent consultancy established in 1992, was enrolled by Smart Energy GB to assess trends in energy demand in major British cities, in order to produce city-level forecasts of energy usage over a 20-year time horizon. The results suggest, perhaps surprisingly, that “due to efficiency measures and greater interest in energy saving,” electricity demand is falling. However, this trend is only expected to continue until approximately 2025.
“Although UK energy demand has decreased in recent years, it is expected to rise again. The mid-2020s are set to be a turning point, and without further policy measures energy demand is set to increase as many of the ‘easy’ energy efficiency gains in the economy are exhausted. The latest Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) central forecasts show an 8% rise in total energy demand between 2025 and 2035,” the report reads.
Cebr expects demand to rise by almost a fifth (19 per cent) 2035 from 2015 rates. They attribute this to economic growth and to a rising population and technological changes, such as the escalation in popularity of electric vehicles (EVs). In fact the predicted growth in the use of EVs plays a prominent role in the report, which suggests that the unknown nature of EV use creates the potential for unexpected pressure on the grid.
“The National Grid estimates that, on a cold winter day, the average electricity customer currently consumes 13 kWh. Its modelling assumes an average electric vehicle charge consumption of approximately 6.3kWh per day, which means an increase of almost 50% in electricity demand for that home,” the report suggests.
The increased use of electrical heating and the growing number of electronic devices in the home will also impact these demand forecasts; and when you add the supply side development of intermittent renewable energy generation, the UK could see energy deficits and even regular blackouts. The report warns that “the UK should be prepared to re-enter a period of rising energy demand over the next 20 years, in the absence of additional measures to improve energy efficiency”.
It’s not all doom and gloom however; the report consistently notes that catastrophe can be averted with the appropriate measures. While encouraging low-cost schemes such as cycling, car-sharing and greater fuel efficiency, the majority of solutions come at a cost-not-welcomed in the current fiscal climate. As we saw with home insulation subsidies. Considering this the report proposes that “smart solutions to change behaviour, present a cost effective response”.
“One way to help consumers adapt to new patterns in energy use would be the promotion of ‘smart infrastructure’. Increasing individual awareness of the financial costs consumers face from energy inefficiency, through smart meters for example, could significantly change consumer behaviour,” reads the Powering future cities report.
This change is already well underway, with Smart Energy GB highlighing smart technology developments in 11 UK cities. Bristol leads the way in smart city advances, the report suggests, but Nottingham, Glasgow and Manchester are also worthy of special recognition. “There is huge potential for cities and other local authorities to use these digital networks in innovative ways to manage energy flows and develop cleaner, greener neighbourhoods.”
By 2020 all homes in the UK will have a smart meter, this will not only give residents greater understanding and control over their energy consumption, but also feed back into smart grid technologies, load balancing mechanisms and the Internet of Energy. As with so many elements of the emerging smart era, data is king and provides the actionable intelligence needed to optimise our energy systems.
Telling a story of our future in which we pay no attention to energy efficiency could be considered somewhat fear mongering, but it does create the sense of urgency that is probably needed to propel smart energy technologies forward in the UK. As the report says, “looking ahead, it is crucial that this momentum is maintained.”
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