5 things we've learnt about the UK's energy industry in February 2016
Government statistical releases relating to the UK’s energy sector have been coming thick and fast this month, and while a lot of the data was a tad dry, a few things caught our eye.
Here are five key points for you to mull over...
1) Our social status has a bearing on our attitudes towards renewables
In early February, the Department of Energy & Climate Change’s (DECC’s) latest Public Attitudes Tracker suggested that Britons are steadily becoming more receptive to sustainable energy production. 78% of the public expressed their support for the use of renewables - with a mere 4% opposed to green energy generation and a further 1% “strongly” against the concept of clean power.
One particular section of the DECC report caught our eye. Apparently, people’s attitudes towards renewables vary wildly depending on their social grading - a classification tool that is used to determine the status of chief income earners. This document explains the system in greater detail.
86% of those who fall into social grade AB were found to be strong advocates of renewables, as were 86% of people who earn more than £35,000 a year. Conversely, only 69% of UK residents who are in the DE social grade (lower-paid workers) are behind sustainable energy, and this figure drops to just 65% among so-called “social renters”.
The cost of creating a more sustainable energy mix has always been a major sticking point for many. While we can’t draw too many concrete conclusions from the aforementioned socially-segmented statistics, we can assume that a lot of people are still worried that a move towards greener energy will force their gas and electricity bills higher.
It’s important that energy companies and the government join forces to further raise awareness of the economic pros and cons attached to renewables.
2) Energy bills are our biggest concern, but we're not doing anything about it!
The Public Attitudes Tracker confirmed that we’re becoming increasingly concerned about our energy bills. It showed that, when compared to other household bills, 10% were more worried about paying for their gas and electricity than food, transport and housing costs. A quarter of Britons are either “very” or “fairly” worried about keeping on top of their energy payments.
We can break this data down by demographic. The people who are most concerned about their gas and electricity bills were as follows:
- Private renters (38%)
- People who earn less than £16,000 per annum (37%)
- Those who fall under social grade DE (35%)
- Social renters (33%)
- 25 to 31-year-olds (31%)
Although many of us are clearly feeling the pinch, the government report revealed that only 7% of people have “firm plans” to save money by switching their energy supplier in the next year, while 59% said they were definitely not going to change from their current provider. Many still hold the false belief that switching suppliers is time consuming and not particularly cost-effective. We’re here to prove this is definitely not the case!
3) The UK is lagging behind in the global renewables race
On the face of it, the latest renewables statistics published by the UK Government are impressive. The report showed that renewables’ share of overall electricity generation increased from 17.6% in the third quarter of 2014 to 23.5% in the same period of 2015.
The amount of power generated by onshore and offshore wind, solar PV and bioenergy all increased year-on-year. Meanwhile, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported earlier this year that £15.2 billion was invested in clean energy projects across the UK in 2015 - a record for annual renewables investment in this country.
While all seems to be rosy, there are genuine concerns that the UK is falling behind in the global renewables race.
While it’s not always constructive to compare yourself to others, we can’t hide from the fact that other countries are outperforming us. Just by scrolling through the #renewables hashtag on twitter will open your eyes to how much is currently being spent globally.
This chart created and published by Carbon Brief, using Eurostat data, shows that the UK is some way from achieving its EU 2020 renewable energy goals. Only France and the Netherlands are further from hitting their targets in four years’ time.
It must be stressed that some countries have had to share more of the overall burden than others (depending on their economic status more than anything - nobody is expecting Germany and Latvia to make the same level of impact, for example), but nevertheless it’s obvious that despite recent progress, the UK still has plenty of work to do.
4) The withdrawal of CCS funding could derail the UK's climate change efforts
On February 10th 2016, the Energy and Climate Change Committee warned that the government’s decision to scrap plans to fund carbon capture and storage (CCS) could make it much harder for the UK to meet climate change targets that were recently agreed at the Paris COP21 summit. It’s hard not to agree.
MP Angus MacNeil, Chair of the group, was quoted as saying that failing to invest in the infrastructure required for carbon capture and storage now could cost us more money in the future. He labelled the government’s decision to cancel its £1 billion commercialisation competition as “hugely disappointing”.
“If the government is committed to the climate change pledges made in Paris, it cannot afford to sit back and simply wait and see if CCS will be deployed when it is needed,” he commented.
“Getting the infrastructure in place takes time and the government needs to ensure that we can start fitting gas fired power stations with carbon capture and storage technology in the 2020s.”
Following on from point three above, it’s worrying that vital funding is being withdrawn at a time when the UK needs to be motoring ahead in its quest to reverse the effects of climate change.
5) We're placing more trust in UK energy suppliers
There’s always a cheaper domestic or business energy tariff to be found somewhere, and it always pays to ensure you’re receiving the best deal. That being said, a lot of people believe that UK energy suppliers are all the same - particularly the so-called “Big Six” - and many hold a deep-seated distrust of power providers.
However, new reports seem to suggest that energy suppliers are starting to get the public back on their side. The Public Attitudes Tracker found that 72% of people trust their provider to give them a bill that accurately reflects their energy use – up from 68% in the previous report. Overall, 58% of the public believe that energy suppliers give their customers the best deals possible.
New statistics released by Ofgem have also shown that the number of complaints being fielded by the Big Six fell by 24% in 2015 when compared with the previous year. Although the regulator still insists that the volume of complaints being lodged is far too high - the six largest providers received just shy of five million customer grievances last year - improvements are being made.