Scrapping EU efficiency rules would hike UK energy bills post-Brexit

Researchers found that switching back to less efficient models would increase the UK's energy demands by 3.5%, roughly the same as one new nuclear reactor. [Shutterstock]

Brexit could add €100 to the average British household’s annual electricity bill and increase energy demands if the United Kingdom chooses not to hold on to the EU’s high energy efficiency standards after it leaves the bloc in March 2019, according to a new study.

Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has found that the UK could scupper progress in energy efficiency if it scraps existing EU regulations and opens the door to cheaper, less efficient Chinese appliances.

With around 18 months to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU, British lawmakers face the Herculean task of deciding which European laws to retain in domestic legislation, including those that regulate energy efficiency.

EU efforts have contributed to falling residential energy demand over the last two decades, as wasteful appliances have been phased out in favour of more efficient alternatives. Efforts to promote energy saving lighting have also paid off in emissions and bill reductions.

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The ECIU study focused on a scenario in which seven best-selling UK appliances, from laptops to refrigerators, were replaced by their closest Chinese counterparts. In order to avoid skewed results, the study only took into account products that are regulated and widespread in both markets.

Its findings showed that the more inefficient Chinese appliances would cost households an extra £69 (€74) annually, with the most significant disparities seen in laptops, microwaves and computer monitors.

Perhaps more significantly, the UK’s annual energy demand would increase by around 3.5% if all 27 million British households were to switch to less efficient models.

For comparison, Britain’s still under-construction Hinkley Point C nuclear plant should cover 7% of national energy demand. Construction is likely to cost over €20 billion.

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ECIU’s report highlighted the dramatic progress in energy efficiency the top seven types of appliances have made since 2000. On average, fridge-freezers require nearly 40% less energy, while washing machines and PC monitors have improved by 25% and 30%, respectively.

Uptake of energy efficient products has nevertheless been relatively slow in the UK. A 2015 study by market researcher GfK showed that the market share of eco-products in Britain is lower than in many other EU countries, including new members Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria.

In many member states, electricity price and energy efficiency concerns were the main influence on consumer choice, while in the UK product price and special offers were the most influential, suggesting that cutting “red tape” post-Brexit would mean a greater market share for cheaper Chinese wares.

The study also took into account light bulbs and the switch from inefficient incandescent models to energy saving alternatives. As older lighting technology has a far shorter shelf life than appliances, the benefits of policy-making emerge more quickly.

Between 2000 and 2015, electricity consumed by incandescent lighting in the UK plummeted 97%, reducing total domestic lighting demand by a third. Reverting to older-style bulbs, which are less efficient and have a shorter shelf life, could bump an average electric bill up by a further €26 every year, the study said.

It stressed that this extra strain on people’s fuel bills could have a huge impact on the estimated 10% of households that are currently classed as being in fuel poverty.

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ECIU’s report also suggested that reduced standards would complicate future UK-EU relations, “increasing the burden of red tape on British businesses selling to domestic and EU markets”.

The EU estimates that the combined efforts of its labels and standards will save roughly the equivalent of Italy’s annual primary energy consumption by 2020.

The European Commission’s new Energy Labelling Regulation came into force in July, intended to simplify how manufacturers flaunt the efficiency of their products.

New energy labels that cut maximum decibel levels and limit maximum wattage in certain appliances will also come into force next month. It is also unclear whether the UK will transpose this legislation into domestic law.

The EU executive acknowledged last year that negative media press surrounding the British tabloid-dubbed ‘Hoovergate’ contributed to the Commission’s decision not to include toasters and hairdryers in the new set of rules.

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