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UK government ‘must recognise the hidden benefits of energy efficiency’

Drax power station - Energy efficiency, including LED lighting, means the UK needs fewer of these

The UK is saving billions of pounds a year thanks to the ‘unseen’ benefits of reducing energy demand, according to a new report.

The Association for Decentralised Energy, which represents the combined heat and power industry, says that generating energy locally and using it more efficiently is saving consumers more than £37bn ($56bn) a year, compared to 1980.

The report, which looks at local energy generation and energy efficiency actions such as lighting, says that these measures have helped the UK avoid building 14 new power stations, the equivalent of half the country’s current power generating capacity.

But these benefits are often overlooked because policymakers focus too much on energy supply and not enough on demand, the association said. It’s easier for politicians to implement and evaluate big, centralised measures addressing supply than to grapple with the myriad smaller demand-side measures going on across the country, the report says.

Lighting industry figures have made similar criticisms of the government’s approach to energy, arguing that much more attention needs to be paid to reducing demand, rather than simply increasing capacity and moving to renewable energy.

Last year Lux came up with its own estimates of how capacity could be reduced if low-energy lighting were more widely adopted.

The ADE wants to move the demand side ‘from the margins to the centre stage, making it the primary focus of future policy’.

The association’s director Tim Rotheray said: ‘Actions on the demand side have helped keep Britain’s lights on, making the UK a better place to do business by keeping energy supplies consistent and reliable… Despite these considerable achievements, new energy policy often repeats the same patterns, taking a centralised approach to solving the energy challenge and overlooking the substantial contribution that users and individual actions can make.

‘With a clear, simple policy approach that values these smaller contributions, demand-side services can help consumers do even more to cut waste, improve competitiveness and reduce emissions. By 2020, we could save consumers a further £5.6 billion and make the UK a more attractive place to do business.

‘Adopting the right policy could mean that by 2020 we could save enough power to run the London Underground for 30 years, equivalent to 45 TWh (45 billion units). Further reduction in energy demand will make the UK more secure and enable greater energy independence.’