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Energy Rationing in the UK: Where Do We Stand?
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Blog...Energy Rationing in the UK: Where Do We Stand?

Energy Rationing in the UK: Where Do We Stand?

Green News
Policy
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What is energy rationing in the United Kingdom, and does it help to reduce electrical consumption and mitigate climate change?
Green News
2023-08-02T00:00:00.000Z
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From the Ten Point Plan, to the CMA’s guidelines, the U.K. Environment Act of 2021, and the U.K. Hydrogen Strategy – the U.K. has been pulling out all the big stops necessary to finally implement the climate changes necessary to reduce the negative impacts of global warming.

👉 However, there is one thing that even the best of environmental plans couldn’t prepare for – the need for energy rationing.  

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has decreased the electricity supply of many countries, including the United Kingdom. Is it viable that energy rationing could help the United Kingdom survive the period of reduced availability of electricity, and even propel them towards their transition towards a clean energy future? 

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What is Energy Rationing? 

👉 Energy rationing, sometimes referred to as “power rationing”, is the practice of cutting off the electricity supply during peak hours of use in an attempt to reduce electrical consumption. This practice was proposed by the UK Government in 2022 in response to potential shortages of electricity across the country and the European Union. 

How does energy rationing work?

Energy rationing works by closing power stations and ordering industrial sites to stop using gas/oil on demand.

Power plants would also need to be momentarily shut down, which results in an even broader shortage of electricity. In theory, this could then force authorities to ration the remaining power by turning off the supply during peak hours.

Peak hours for example typically include weekdays from seven until ten in the morning, and from four in the afternoon until nine o’clock at night. Basically - think of when you use electricity most during the day – it’s when you’re getting ready for work or school, and when you come home to unwind from the stressors of the day. 

What are the impacts of energy rationing?

Let’s not get confused – energy rationing and blackouts would be like a dream for the environment, and have an overall positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions and help to reduce pollution. However, as we have further transitioned into a digital world following the COVID-19 pandemic – a full-on blackout could prove catastrophic in a lot of ways.

If there’s to be no electricity during peak hours, it’s going to make doing just about anything difficult, especially seeing that so many people work remotely, these days.

👉 No power means no internet, no computers, and only using what’s left of your phone battery in the meantime. Schools wouldn’t be able to have lights on in their classrooms, and people who work in the office or at home won’t be able to be as productive without their respective technologies. 

The reality is, that technology helps to reduce the chance of human error during work. For instance, as I am trying this very article – autocorrect is helping me to be more efficient in writing as it automatically corrects any potential typing errors. While it is still imperative for me to proofread everything I write, as technology still isn’t parallel to tone of voice in the same manner as the human brain – it’s evident that autocorrect saves me tedious amounts of time correcting silly errors, and ultimately – helps me to get my work done faster

Remote work has made communication more prominent, in a different way. Virtual meetings have to be planned more methodically as more people work on an autonomous schedule, and therefore – can prove to be more productive even if executed in a shorter amount of time. 

In short, even if you have an affinity for the days before cell phones interrupted dinner conversations – it’s hard to not recognise the valuable benefits that technology has had on work and education, and it cannot be sustained if energy rationing is to occur. 

Is energy rationing still a threat in the UK?

The threat of energy rationing loomed large over the UK (and other European countries) in the winter of 2022 and early 2023 due to the possibility of Russia cutting off electricity supplies to the region. It was initially feared that the United Kingdom could suffer full-blown blackouts, however, thankfully this didn't come to pass.

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Why was the United Kingdom interested in energy rationing?

In 2022, our television screens were flooded with horrifying images of war on European soil. And while the human toll is devastating, Russia's unprovoked attack on Ukraine isn't just a humanitarian catastrophe, it also created wide-ranging negative impacts for the whole European continent - including the current energy crisis.

As tensions grew between Russia and the West, Russia shut down some of its oil and gas pipelines, and European countries moved to introduce full or partial bans on Russian oil and gas imports. This meant that the UK and other European countries were left scrambling to secure their energy supply.

"Russia dramatically reduced its supply of electricity to countries in Europe, which resulted in the classic “supply and demand” predicament – the supply of electricity reduced, but the demand for electricity remained the same."

It was feared that this would lead to an electricity shortage and that countries such as the UK would have to introduce energy rationing measures.

Making matters worse was the fact that Covid lockdowns had also caused the price of electricity to rise – alongside inflation occurring in many parts of the world such as the European Union and the United States. All of these factors combined made the price of electricity skyrocket, with those in Europe suffering the worst of the aftermath.

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The result? Exorbitant prices of electricity that have never been seen before.

❗️ Consumers in the UK face the highest increase in energy prices since 1988! If we compare January 2022 (before the war in Ukraine broke out) with January 2023, we can see a whopping 129% increase in gas prices and 66% increase in electricity prices!

Thankfully in 2023, we've seen prices drop since the beginning of the year. Ofgem (the UK body responsible for regulating energy suppliers) has set the energy price cap at £1,923 a year for a 'typical household' starting from October 1st, 2023. This is significantly lower than last year's cap of £3,549 (something that caused the UK government to intervene and introduce its own cap of £2,500).

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What's the current energy situation in the UK?

With energy prices dropping in the UK you may be wondering if the energy crisis is over. Unfortunately, while the situation is better - and energy rationing doesn't seem to be a threat for the moment - energy prices are still volatile.

The UK always benefitted from the fact that only 4% of gas used in the UK and 9% of oil came from Russian imports. This has since dropped to 0% in 2023, with the UK banning all Russian imports of coal, oil, and gas. However, while the UK relied on Russia to a lesser extent than some European countries, it's still exposed to disruption and price fluctuations in the energy markets, which have been greatly impacted by the ongoing war in Ukraine. This means that energy prices are likely to remain high for the foreseeable future.

The ongoing energy crisis has forced the UK government to reassess its energy security strategy. Ensuring a reliable long-term energy supply means that the UK needs to become more self-reliant. This means bolstering home-grown energy such as wind and solar - something the UK government has recognised. Unfortunately, the UK's Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, also sees increased North Sea oil and gas extraction as part of the solution - as evidenced by his recent announcement that new exploration licenses would be granted.

Yet, given the ongoing price volatility, dwindling supplies, and the pressing need to decarbonise, this can only ever be a short-term solution.

👉 To read more about Rishi Sunak's controversial decision to grant new North Sea oil and gas licences head over to our article.

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How can you reduce your electricity consumption? 

If you think you’re the only one frantically shutting off the lights and making sure the T.V. is turned off before you leave your house or apartment this winter – think again. 

Many of us are struggling to be able to afford the new prices of electricity, and if our country isn’t keen on energy rationing – it means that the bulk of the energy rationing is up to ourselves, which doesn’t always prove to be an easy task. 

In order to adequately reduce your electrical consumption, you have to remain mindful and slowly instil new habits over time.

What are some of the things you can do to reduce your electrical consumption this winter as electricity prices skyrocket across the United Kingdom and the European Union?

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1. Unplug chargers

First off, it may seem trite – but try to unplug chargers that aren’t in use. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, people could save up to 10% on their monthly electricity bills if they are to unplug laptop or phone chargers when they aren’t in use. If you have a guest room that is only used on occasion, make sure to unplug the T.V. or lamps in that room as well – and plug them back in only when guests are to arrive. 

10% may not seem like a lot, but let’s say you have an electricity bill of €100 – that’s €10 you’d save a month, or two coffees at a cute Parisian cafe. 

2. Purchase energy efficient appliances

Obviously, the best way to increase your energy efficiency is to purchase energy efficient appliances. However, given the fact that many people live in furnished apartments where the choice isn’t theirs to make – here are a few more tips.

3. Smartly use your desktop

If you have a desktop or monitor, make sure to set a timer for the sleep display – as keeping the screen lit up and running 24/7 can easily run through your energy reserves. Also, investing in a smart power strip can help you to turn off all your devices faster. LED light bulbs can help to improve the energy efficiency of your lamps, and while they’re initially more expensive – can help reduce electricity consumption and costs overtime. 

4. Have a short shower

Did you know that even taking a shower uses electricity? Even if it's summertime – you aren’t taking a completely cold shower. Power is required for warm water, so reducing your hot water consumption anywhere you can: the dishwasher, washing machines, or in the shower – can also help to reduce your electricity bill. 

5. Optimise heating system's use

It’s hard to not use your central heating system at all during the winter months – but there are some things you can do. Heat your home until it’s warm enough, and then turn it off. In other words, don’t have the heat constantly running – but only use it when it’s necessary.

In the interim, rely on fuzzy blankets, socks, and hot beverages to keep warm. 

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Is energy rationing the answer to the reduced supply of electricity? 

There are really only two solutions to cope with the new shortened supply of electricity: accept that you’re going to pay a through-the-roof electricity bill, or find ways to reduce your electrical consumption (i.e. ration your energy consumption)

Reducing our individual energy consumption will undoubtedly have positive effects on the United Kingdom in an environmental sense, as greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced. However, the long-term issue will still remain unresolved – how to eschew the need for electricity, fossil fuels, and other harmful substances that pollute the atmosphere in the first place.

My neighbor keeps making a joke to me that he’s going to find ways to reduce the need to use the heater for his 80-square-meter apartment by lighting candles and excessively making sure the lights are turned off. While I admire the nostalgic desire to use candles for warmth and lighting, the bitter truth is that we aren’t in the 1800s anymore. There isn’t really a need to rely on candles during a period of energy rationing, as technology has proven the improved replacements that are possible. 

Clean resources of energy are abundant and widely available despite the current shortage and newfound rationing of electricity. The U.K. government has expressed its desire to transition to the widespread use of clean energy, and many of its ideas have already been put in motion – such as the U.K. Hydrogen Strategy. 

The U.K. has proved that it’s more than possible to provide residents with a reliable source of energy that also reduces carbon emissions. With home-grown renewable energy, global conflicts don’t have to have an impact on a country’s energy supply, and while energy rationing is a method of combating the negative effects – it isn’t necessary and doesn’t solve the root of the problem. 

👉 We need to stop relying on non-renewable resources to feed our electrical consumption. The time to make the transition to clean energy for electricity isn’t something for the future – but the best thing for what’s happening right now. 

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What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about energy rationing in the U.K. has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint. 

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