Last week the Green Party’s sole MP Caroline Lucas tabled an amendment to the UK’s Energy Bill calling for electricity demand to be reduced by 103 terawatt hours by 2020.
(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the passing of this Act publish
a strategy setting out policies to achieve a reduction in demand for electricity of
at least 103 TWh by 2020 and 154 TWh by 2030.
(2) The strategy must include an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the policies
included in it.
(3) Before publishing the strategy the Secretary of State must consult such persons
as in his opinion may have information that will assist him in drawing up the
(4) The Secretary of State must—
(a) implement the strategy; and
(b) report to Parliament every year on progress.’.
For context total electricity demand in the UK was 365 terawatt hours in 2011. So, Lucas is proposing a 30% drop in total demand in a mere 7 years, or roughly 5% per year until 2020. The 2030 figure is even more absurd. This requires us to reduce UK electricity use to 58% of 2011 levels by 2030. How exactly can this be done while also making serious efforts to electrify cars and heating?
Lucas also seems to want the government to set out policies within 12 months of the act passing to get demand down 103 TWh by 2020. Well, the act hasn’t passed yet. This means the government would need to come along in the middle of 2014 with a plan to reduce electricity demand by 30% within 6 years. If there is a credible strategy to do this it would be better for Lucas to provide it than proposing silly amendments.
And what exactly is the point of having such precise numbers? Does Caroline Lucas know what the UK population will be in 2030? Does she know how much the economy will grow? Does she know how many electric cars will be on the roads? Such precise figures either imply incredible foresight, the trumping of ideology over reality, or ignorance of the role of electricity in the economy, and I will leave it to the reader to decide which is more likely.
[Update: As Vinny in the comments has pointed out, the source for Lucas’s TWh figure reduction figure appears to be a McKinsey report that she has not understood very well. McKinsey argued that the UK could reduce electricity demand about 36% in 2030 using efficiency measures. This comes to around 146 TWh of demand reduction, not too far off Lucas’s 154 TWh figure. The problem however is that McKinsey’s 146 TWh demand reduction was not in comparison with today’s demand, but projected demand for 2030. Demand today is 328 TWh, 2030 demand is projected to be 411 TWh. So, instead of a potential to reduce electricity demand by 150 TWh from today we are really looking at a demand reduction of 63 TWh. The difference? Lucas’s amendment would have electricity demand reduced to 35% below the levels which McKinsey says are feasible, and this is the report she based the amendment on.
Getting the numbers correct is essential when it comes to our carbon emissions, yet too many environmentalists appear to believe that the only thing that matters for a statistic is that it makes a good talking point. Will this ever change?