People, your TVs are too big!

Earlier this year, Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat secretary of state for energy, hit a new low in proposals to deal with Britain’s inadequate and pricey energy supply. In a startling new insight, he declared that the government would pay factories to shut down at times of peak demand, that no economic activity would be curtailed by such a measure, and that it was ‘cheaper than building new power stations’

Now he has gone one worse.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have just published a report with the oxymoronic title Powering the Nation 2: Electricity use in homes, and how to reduce it. It pretty much does to households what Davey’s earlier scheme proposed for factories. True, the government won’t pay you to switch off the TV, lights and other appliances in your home; but, to save on Britain’s consumption of energy, it would like you to buy smaller TVs, if you’re a working-class telly addict. And, if you’re middle class, it would like you to stop buying big fridges.

‘We cannot make informed decisions about electricity generation’, the report pompously declares, ‘without also understanding the potential for efficiencies and savings from households… This relies on robust data and analysis.’ What the authors – researchers at Loughborough University and consultancy firm Cambridge Architectural Research – mean by this turns out to be simple. Manufacturers of household appliances need to improve the energy efficiency of their machines – despite the fact that, according to DECC itself, they have been doing exactly this.

Old people and poor people (or members of Britain’s ‘claimant culture’, according to the classification quoted from the market research company Experian) need to stop using electricity to heat their homes, and switch to gas instead. And everyone should cut back, so that, in sum, energy savings equivalent to ‘more than the annual output of two large (1.5 GW) power stations’ can be made.

As Nicola Terry, a co-author of the report, put it: ‘Why do we need a bigger TV, and why do we need a bigger fridge? [The trouble is that] when people go to the shop they think, that’s bigger it must be better.’

The disdain felt by the authors for the populace is all too palpable. The possibility that people might want a bigger screen to enjoy the World Cup does not seem to occur to our learned experts. And have they never considered the possibility that dispensing with big freezers and, instead, making a daily visit to get your super fresh in-season organically-grown pesticide-free victuals could actually use a lot of petrol?

No, they haven’t. They know better than the plebs. Just keep on with fruitless efforts to lower demand for energy. Anything, anything but build new power stations!

James Woudhuysen is professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester, and editor of Big Potatoes: the London Manifesto for Innovation. Read his blog here.

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