Households should be told if they are using more energy than their neighbours to encourage them to cut down in order to reduce bills and avoid shortages this winter, government advisers have suggested.
Sending letters to households to let them know how their energy use compares with their neighbours has been shown to reduce household use by around two per cent in global studies, said Lis Costa of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT).
Energy bills could reach £3,615 by next year, and stay high until at least 2024, analysts said on Tuesday, potentially pushing millions into fuel poverty.
The Government has maintained that the UK is unlikely to face energy shortages this year, despite rationing in Europe.
But Ms Costa said it was “considering the full remit of its policy toolbox” to reduce household demand.
Several European countries have introduced measures to reduce energy consumption, with Spain this week asking men not to wear ties to lower demand for air conditioning, and telling shop owners to turn off lights at night.
Also known as the “nudge unit”, the BIT was part of the Government until last year and still acts in an advisory capacity.
Ms Costa, its managing director, said allowing households to compare their energy usage was one of the top three ways the Government could help people tackle the impact of record bills this year.
A similar scheme was first suggested by David Cameron in 2008, although it was never introduced. The Treasury has trialled sending letters to people who have failed to pay their taxes on time, letting them know they were in the minority compared to others in their neighbourhood.
“We’ve seen, across lots of cultural contexts, that kind of social norm feedback reduces energy use,” said Ms Costa.
Households could also cut their energy use by six to eight per cent simply by reducing the temperature of the water in their radiators, known as the flow temperature, to 55C or below, with no change in comfort levels, Ms Costa said.
‘Subsidies are needed’
Demand reduction tactics are unlikely to be sufficient for many households facing difficult choices this winter and the Government should ensure people can clearly identify any payments that come through.
“Subsidies are very much needed this year. There are a lot of people who are really going to be struggling this winter,” Ms Costa said.
But in the long term, mechanisms to cut energy consumption could also contribute to the Government’s net zero goals.
“Many, many people across the UK are very concerned about climate change and want to be able to do more to contribute to net zero goals,” Ms Costa said. “And clearly, household energy use is one of the major areas where people can make reductions in emissions and in their lives.
“And these are some easy tools that they can use to do that in a way that allows them to still live comfortably in their homes as well.”
An energy savings advice website was launched by the Government this week, but swiftly criticised for failing to provide advice for the quickest and cheapest measures. The website advises people on getting a heat pump, which can cost more to run, but gives no advice on basic insulation such as draught excluders.
“There are many, many gaps, which will need to be addressed,” said Peter Smith, from National Energy Action. “We hope that the Government will be supplementing the new site with further information, which could be vital this winter to keep people safe and warm in their homes.”
A BEIS spokesman said: “The UK’s secure and diverse energy supplies will ensure households, businesses and industry can be confident they can get the electricity and gas they need.
“Britain is at a strategic advantage compared to other European countries through access to our own North Sea gas reserves, steady imports from reliable partners like Norway, the second largest LNG port infrastructure in Europe, and a gas supply underpinned by robust legal contracts.
“Thanks to a massive £90 billion investment in clean energy in the last decade, we have one of the most reliable and diverse energy systems in the world, and unlike Europe, we are not dependent on Russian energy imports.”