Shiver through the winter to fight global warming, warns grid operator

Households need to turn their thermostats down in winter to help Britain slash greenhouse gas emissions and hit Boris Johnson’s bid for a carbon-neutral Britain by 2050, energy bosses have said.

Cutting thermostat settings by one degree centigrade could reduce demand for heating by 13pc, according to National Grid ESO, helping to cut energy use so that the UK hits this target.

The business, which manages Britain’s electricity supply and demand,  has included household temperature in its influential annual energy modelling papers for the first time amid a growing emphasis on consumer habits in the fight against climate change. 

Matthew Wright, head of strategy at National Grid ESO, said: “If Britain is to meet its ambitious emissions reduction targets, consumers will need a greater understanding of how their power use and lifestyle choices impact how sustainable our energy system will be – from how we heat our homes, to when we charge our future cars."  

The Government is committed to slashing carbon emissions by 78pc by 2035 and to reaching net zero by 2050. It is especially focused on green targets ahead of the international Cop26 United Nations climate change conference which the Prime Minister is hosting in Glasgow in November.

Significant progress in cutting carbon emissions has been made so far mainly by changes to power generation, with coal-fired plants almost pushed out of the system and wind now generating around one quarter of demand. 

However, the next steps will involve potentially more controversial intrusion in people’s lives and changes to their behaviour, such as a race to install electric heat pumps, increase the number of electric cars and cut down on travel or meat eating. 

Residential energy use accounts for about 14pc of the UK’s emissions or around 71m tons of carbon dioxide per year, much of which is generated from emissions by gas-fired boilers. 

That is likely to fall as heat-pumps and hydrogen are used more widely to heat British homes as part of a major green overhaul, but bosses say changes by individuals would also help. 

In the average UK home, heating is the biggest source of carbon emissions

The average thermostat temperature in Britain is around 19C, but can range between 17.5C and 21C. In modelling published on Monday, National Grid ESO explored how this could change. 

It set out four "credible pathways" for ways in which the energy system will evolve in coming decades. In three of these, the country manages to cut carbon emissions by 2050. 

In its "most ambitious" scenario, consumers’ thermostats are set one degree lower by 2050, while in a less ambitious scenario they are 0.5 degrees lower. The reductions lead to falls in demand of 13pc and 7pc respectively. In a third scenario, greater energy efficiency measures are needed instead. 

Alex Haffner, energy insight manager at National Grid ESO, said: "The purpose of the modelling is not necessarily to say what people should do – it’s more to say what happens if people take a certain course. 

"But it could make quite a big difference. It could be that you have to install lots of expensive or disruptive insulation measures in your home; it could be that you could do things like changing the temperature on your thermostat, or you could do both."

The Government is expected to announce more detail on its plans to cut carbon emissions from heating and air conditioning in homes, offices and factories in coming months. Industry bosses are calling for a clearer strategy on the role of hydrogen and heat pumps, as well as greater measures to encourage energy efficiency. 

Mr Haffner said: "People are familiar with the idea that you shouldn’t burn coal in power stations and there are benefits to be had by switching to electric vehicles, but they seem to be less aware of the impact on carbon emissions of using natural gas for heating."

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