Liz Truss reportedly blocks plans for public communication campaign, as OVO and National Grid both advance plans to ease pressure on grid at peak times
Number 10 has reportedly blocked plans for a £15m public information campaign to advise people on how to reduce energy use and cut their bills their winter, amidst warnings the UK could face blackouts if it cannot import sufficient energy from Europe.
The Times reported this morning that Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg had approved plans for a 'light touch' campaign, which would have provided households with information on how lowering boiler temperatures, turning off radiators in empty rooms, and turning off heating when people are out could save up to £300 a year.
But the paper said Downing Street has blocked the campaign, arguing the information is already publicly available elsewhere.
The "energy demand reduction campaign" was set to feature broadcast, newspaper, and social media advertising. It was expected to stop short of advising people to turn down thermostats, turn off lights, and take showers rather than baths due to concerns that such guidance could have negative health impacts and be seen as excessively 'nannying'. But it would have urged people to take practical steps to reduce their energy bills and in the process would have aimed to reduce demand in response to growing fears the UK could face energy shortages this winter.
The campaign would have emulated similar public information campaigns across Europe that are seeking to curb winter energy demand by up to 15 per cent in an attempt to combat soaring energy prices and guard against the risk of full blown gas supply shortages that could lead to rolling blackouts.
Campaigners and business groups have been arguing for months that advising households and businesses to take action to save energy could have a material impact on energy security, while also reducing bills and curbing the cost to the taxpayer of the government's multi-billion pound Energy Price Guarantee scheme that has effectively frozen energy prices.
Writing on Twitter, former senior civil servant Tim Lord said the "most frustrating thing about [the failure to launch a public information campaign] is that this a very rare example of a policy with no trade-offs/downside. It would: cut bills, cut borrowing, cut waste, cut flow of cash from UK consumers to (largely overseas) energy producers, cut emissions, [and] cut security of supply risk".
However, the Times reported that Prime Minister Liz Truss was "ideologically opposed" to a public information campaign. Number 10's intervention follows the prime minister's speech to her party conference speech this week in which she declared "I'm not going to tell you what to do, or what to think or how to live your life".
But the move has prompted an angry response from within an already deeply divided government. One source told the Times it was "a stupid decision" not to proceed with a public information campaign on energy saving. "The campaign was entirely practical, it was about saving people money," they said. "It wasn't about lecturing them."
The news comes as private energy companies and grid operators are taking steps to try and ease pressure on the grid during periods of peak demand ahead of a potentially challenging winter.
Energy supplier Ovo this week announced it is to launch a new scheme which will reward customers for consuming energy at times when demand on the electricity grid is lower.
The company's new Power Move scheme, set to be offered to Ovo customers from mid-October, will offer £20 a month to customers that cut their average energy consumption between the grid-congested hours of 4pm until 7pm.
Ovo said its data shows that the average household uses 19 per cent of its daily total usage between 4pm and 7pm, increasing pressure on the grid and leading to an increased reliance on carbon intensive fossil fuel power stations. As such, the new scheme will offer customers money off their bills if they can cut their average consumption during these hours to less than 12.5 per cent of their daily usage. For the average household, that could be the equivalent of moving three loads of washing per week aways from peak times, the company said.
The trial will run from 1 November until the end of March, with a total of £100 available to customers who manage to shift their energy usage away from peak times.
Ovo said data from the trial would be used to develop longer term solutions that could support a greener, fairer and more resilient energy system.
"The UK energy sector is at a crucial point, and we need a resilient grid to get us through this winter," said CEO Raman Bhatia. "This trial provides essential consumer data which can be shared with the government and the National Grid to prevent power shortages, and will give customers a deeper insight into their energy consumption habits, with great potential savings."
Initiatives that reduce household energy demand and encourage energy users to shift their consumption to times when the electricity grid is less stretched are seen as critical mechanism for both navigating the current energy crisis and meeting net zero goals.
Ovo's announcement comes as National Grid similarly confirmed it was introducing a demand new demand flexibility service on 1 November which will incentivise energy suppliers to encourage their consumers to use power outside of peak times.
It said that it saw "particular potential" for commercial organisations to shift their energy usage, and said it had already received positive feedback from companies interested in taking advantage of its proposed incentives.
The electricity system operator said the new service could free up 2GW of power demand from the grid.
National Grid announced its plan in its Winter Outlook report, which warned there is a risk of power cuts this winter if a cold snap occurs at a time when the UK faces a shortage of domestic fossil gas and low electricity imports from continental Europe.
The electricity transmission network operator said that in this "unlikely event", some households could face planned power outages that would last up to three hours.
Scenarios explored in the report assume electricity imports from Europe are set to decrease as a result of the gas supply shortages being experienced across the continent in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. National Grid warns power imports from France, Belgium, and Netherlands could stop, leaving just 1.2GW of imported electricity available from the interconnector between the UK and Norway.
The organisation stressed the scenarios were not forecasts but had been designed to "illustrate the risks and uncertainties of winter".
But it warned that the winter was going to be "challenging" for energy supply throughout Europe.
"We have taken extensive measures to try to mitigate the impacts for British consumers and expect that, under our base case, margins will be adequate," he said. "Nevertheless, there remain scenarios, driven principally by factors outside of Great Britain which could impact upon British electricity supplies.
Jess Ralston, senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank, said there would be less uncertainty about energy supply this winter if recent governments had pressed ahead with more investment in energy efficiency measures and renewables.
"Every spin of a wind turbine and loft lagged means less gas we need to try to buy," she said. "Bringing more market dynamics into the electricity system makes sense and will help to bring bills down not only for those households taking advantage and switching their energy use to off-peak times but will reduce the need for the most expensive gas plants to come online in the first place, cutting the nation's overall electricity bill."
Analysis from the think tank published yesterday noted that households living in the UK's most poorly insulated homes - those with an energy performance rating of F - will have energy bills that are £1,000 a year higher than those with an EPC rating of C.
Stew Horne at the Energy Saving Trust called for the creation of an "accessible, national, impartial and tailored energy advice service" that would help consumers reduce their energy consumption, as part of a package of demand-side measures.
"In the short term, the UK government needs to consider how to reduce energy demand this winter to increase energy security, lower bills and promote decarbonisation for the long term," he said. "We've seen examples across Europe of demand reduction working in practice, many of which are targeted at public buildings and some energy intensive businesses.
"The European Commission recently announced their plans to reduce peak demand by five per cent across the EU Member States. In the UK, we expect to see organisations model the impact of a similar reduction and would welcome consideration of similar measures to improve energy security."
The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was considering a response at the time of going to press.
Meanwhile, in a further sign of the conflicting signals from within government on the future of its net zero and energy security strategies Trade Minister Conor Burns this week indicated that he wanted to see climate and environmental issues downgraded in future trade deals.
"I have already started pushing back internally in my first two weeks in the department on what seems to have been a determination by DIT, which changed since I was last there, to push net zero and the environment to the top of every single trade agreement as a sort of policy objective," he said during a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference this week.
In comments reported by Politico, he argued that putting climate and environmental conditions in trade deals with developing economies could serve to hamper their efforts to accelerate economic development.
* This article was originally published here