Japanese energy-saving campaign could hold key to easing pressure on British households, say experts
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Britain could learn from Japan’s response to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster by reducing energy consumption to deal with soaring global gas prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, academics have said.
Suggesting a coordinated response to record gas prices could help ease the pressure on households, experts told MPs on the Commons business committee that steps to reduce national demand for gas-fired power next winter could be deployed.
Michael Bradshaw, a professor of global energy at the University of Warwick, said lessons could be learned from Japan, where the government launched a national movement to cut energy usage after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.
He also said Britain could look to the 1970s, when campaigns to reduce energy consumption were run in the UK in response to the oil price shocks triggered by the Yom Kippur war.
“Perhaps we need to learn the lessons of the past,” he told MPs in response to questions about the UK’s energy security after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We do need to think of ways of building resilience going into next winter where people can make adjustments. They have got summer to do it – but more importantly they understand how their heating system works and what measures they can take to turn it down and save money.”
Tokyo ran a media campaign called Setsuden (power saving) after the Fukushima disaster, calling for neon lights to be switched off, trains to run slower and households to cut their energy consumption.
In the UK a campaign called Save it ran during the 1970s, to highlight energy waste, while the late former Conservative cabinet minister Patrick Jenkin achieved notoriety as a shadow energy minister by urging Britons to brush their teeth in the dark to save electricity.
Experts have warned soaring gas prices amid the conflict in Ukraine will drive up household energy costs later this year, contributing to the worst squeeze on living standards since the mid-70s.
Bradshaw said families could be encouraged to turn down their boilers or turn off radiators. Last week the International Energy Agency suggested Europeans could turn down their thermostats by a degree, as part of a 10-point plan to save on gas and reduce dependency on Russian imports.
“It’s a case of ‘support Ukraine, lag your loft’,” Doug Parr, the chief scientist and policy director at Greenpeace UK, told the MPs on Tuesday. He suggested that more could be done to insulate homes and invest in renewable energy to boost Britain’s resilience against energy shocks.
However, the experts dismissed suggestions from backbench Conservatives that embracing fracking could help offset the impact of soaring gas prices and reduce dependency on Russian energy.
“Its time has passed,” Bradshaw said. “We had a conversation. At the moment there is no way that it really should be part of our discussions because it can’t deliver in time.”
The British Geological Survey estimated in 2013 that between 23.3tn and 64.6tn cubic metres of shale gas could be in place in the north of England. However, Bradshaw said the potential was wildly different from the amount that could be physically extracted, while it would take years to achieve commercial production.
“Although we hear of 50 years of gas beneath the ground, that’s the gas-in-place estimate. If you ask me what’s the current level of reserves of shale gas in the UK, the answer is zero, because we’ve not gone through an exploration programme,” he said.
“I simply don’t see that the industry can gain the pace and scale to make a material difference. It makes far more sense to accelerate measures that get us off fossil fuels.”
Jack Sharples, a research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said it would take a long time to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels but that a focus on renewables would help increase the country’s energy sovereignty.
“We cannot control wholesale prices so instead we need to focus our efforts on how we adapt and cope with those prices, rather than trying to control them [in the short term],” he said.
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