Domestic energy consumption linked to affluence

A few weeks ago The Guardian published some great new maps of domestic energy consumption from figures published by DECC at the ‘neighbourhood scale’.

These figures have been mapped for Britain at:

DECC Guidance Notes here.

For anyone that hasn’t had a play with map yet, we’d recommend exploring areas you know.  If you find some interesting trends leave us a message below.

The two key datasets are average gas consumption per gas meter and average electricity consumption per meter.  Just to help you get your head round this data, we believe that OfGem has been able to take consumption data for every 'domestic scale' meter in Britain and produce an average (per meter) figure for each zone.  There will be situations where average household sizes in some areas are larger and you would therefore expect consumption to be higher – if you factored in the average household size per zone then you could normalise the figures to take this into account.

The zones being used (Medium Super Output Areas in England and Wales, Intermediate Zones in Scotland) are roughly similar in terms of population size (approx. 5,000 population per zone).  The effect of housing density is indicated by the size of the zones.  Small zones indicate high densities and a higher percentage of flatted dwellings. Large zones in urban areas often indicate lower density detached or semi-detached suburbia. Flats are known to have lower heating energy requirements per square-metre than terraced houses; hence most of the smallest zones have low total consumption (green colour). Terraced houses, in turn, need less heat than detached houses; hence larger zones containing suburban semi-detached or detached housing, or large city centre town-houses, tend to have the highest gas consumption (coloured red or purple).

Here are a few of our observations:

  • Analysing on-gas-grid areas and off-gas-grid areas on the same electricity map can be highly misleading. It would be better to extract off-gas-grid rural areas and view these on a separate map. It is also not clear exactly which areas are (wholly or partially) off-gas-grid, as some parts of Scotland appear to be ‘on-grid’ even though gas is known not to extend to all parts of particular zones.
  • Like many of those who added comments on the Guardian’s page, there are clear associations (both with per meter data and gross totals) between areas with large, detatched properties (generally more affluent) and higher consumption of both gas and electricity per meter.  To heat these larger properties (which may be historic and ‘hard to heat’) will require more energy.  The classic geographic juxtaposition in Glasgow illustrates this with Drumchapel (high levels of poverty, relatively low levels of consumption – and much higher density housing) and Bearsden (highly affluent, relatively high levels of consumption – and mainly large houses).

 Glasgow neighbourhoods and energy consumption

  • Manchester average domestic gas consumptionIn general rural areas appear to have higher electricity consumption (per meter) than urban areas.  Some of this pattern will be explained by rural properties being off-gas-grid and using electric heating instead.  However a significant proportion of rural housing will be using oil for heating.
  • Gas consumption data will be heavily influenced by access to mains gas.  Where areas do have access to mains gas, then it appears affluent, low-density suburban and rural areas consume more ‘per meter’ than less affluent areas – and also less than highly urbanised areas.  Note the obvious suburban red ring around both Manchester and London for gas consumption ‘per meter’ (see right)
  • Most flatted properties are small and therefore will contain less people ‘per meter’ than large suburban houses. This will reduce energy consumption compared to 4 – 5 person houses. It might therefore be useful to correlate energy use ‘per meter per occupant’.
  • There are large areas in Scotland, in particular without access to mains gas.  They have higher electricity ‘per meter’ consumption as a result of their reliance on electricity for heating, either wholly or to supplement poor-quality oil or solid-fuel heating.
  • This data appears not to highlight a significant north-south difference.  However, checking through some of the DECC information, it would appear that the data has been normalised against climate data, and therefore any north-south divide would not appear.
  • One comment noted in the DECC associated report is that there isLondon average gas consumption a “lack of a reliable domestic industrial/commercial sector split for consumers with low gas consumption. This is because the gas industry uses a crude 73,200 kWh level as the cut off point for defining customers as domestic or commercial/industrial. The implication of this is that only around half a million businesses are allocated to the industrial/commercial sector, with around 2 million small and medium businesses allocated incorrectly to the domestic sector. DECC is currently looking at improving the allocation of businesses to the industrial/commercial sector by using information from the Inter Departmental Business Register (IDBR).”  This means that, where you might have a lot of small-to-medium businesses (e.g. shops and offices below flats) their gas consumption data will also be incorporated into the domestic data.

Some conclusions:

  • It is perhaps no surprise that areas with higher energy consumption are likely to have a high proportion of large, detatched (and possibly historic) houses.  However it is useful to validate this.  We suspect that even if you were to add a 'per head' factor to this data you would still find the same pattern - indeed this could well exacerbate it!
  • There should be considerable potential for cutting energy consumption in affluent on-gas-grid areas through energy efficiency measures, although challenges to this might include the fact that the financial incentives are weaker, they are potentially harder to heat (historic) properties, and there is likely to be a reluctance to invest public money in reaching this audience. 
  • A significant shift towards greater energy efficiency measures and the installation of heat pumps and biomass heating in off-gas-grid rural areas could reduce ‘per meter’ electricity consumption. But, until the data for oil consumption and other fuel sources is available, we will be unable to compare on-gas-grid properties with off-gas-grid properties comparatively.
  • Overall, the source data offers a great deal of value if handled with care.  With further analysis, areas of similar housing type could be compared with each other to highlight those with high and low consumption levels and, more importantly, what is happening in these areas that could explain the variation.  The data should allow local authorities and others to target areas with high consumption.  Campaigns could be developed for these areas to encourage them to take action to reduce their consumption levels.  However public spending on pro-active social marketing to affluent residents may not be considered high priority by many local authorities!
  • The implications of this in terms of policy are far-reaching.  You might be feeling aggrieved that major programmes like the Green Deal appear to be aimed more at cutting consumption for those households that already have lower energy bills!  [Maybe there's more of them and they are considered to be easier to improve?]  But the policy people also need to find ways to persuade affluent households to make significant cuts to their consumption.  How about "you jump to the next council tax band if you score D or below for your EPC"?  This would be neat and relatively easy to implement - except that local authorities would then get the additional revenue and they are not renown for rolling out energy efficiency programmes to the masses.

If you have your own observations and conclusions, perhaps for an area you know, tell us more below. If you have suggestions for policies to persuade those living in larger properties to cut their consumption do post them!


Time for London to become THE priority area?

No real surprises in the data but it highlights a huge market failure in London.

The UK's biggest and most affluent city with the lowest number of energy saving / renewables installations of any region.

Seeingt energy loss

No real surprises in the data, but great to visualise the population. We have been providing quantified images of energy loss for a number of years and have surveyed over 200,000 households in fuel poor areas and "fuel rich" areas alike. The results? We find 33% of households are wasting more than £150 per annum. 33% are between £100-150 per annum whilst the last, best, third waste less than £100 per annum. These figures are additional losses through fabric - NOT total consumption. It would be interesting to match our dataset with the DECC info to add accuracy and drive the message home further to help change behaviour and attitude toward energy usage and wastage.

Question on wasting energy

That's really interesting to hear.  Could I ask, in your experience, which types of households (or, perhaps better, 'properties') are likely to be wasting more and what types less?  From what you've said above, your experience is confined to households wasting energy through losses as a result of the fabric of their building not losses as a result of behaviour like leaving lights on constantly etc.

Would be very interesting to know, thanks.