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Energy: Efficiency

Volume 697: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they propose to take to encourage shops, offices and other workplaces to save energy by switching off unnecessary electrical equipment such as lights, computers and fax machines especially at night and during weekends and holidays.

My Lords, the Defra-funded Carbon Trust provides business and the public sector with a range of energy efficient advice and support and encourages switching off lighting and equipment during non-business times and installing energy efficient lighting and controls. The forthcoming carbon reduction commitment—a mandatory emissions trading scheme for large non-energy-intensive organisations—and increased use of smart metering will also encourage businesses to become more energy efficient.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer and am delighted that the Government are moving forward in this way. Does he agree that smart meters both for businesses and for domestic households would be a good discipline and a step forward, in that people would know how much they were using? Although this is not my noble friend’s responsibility, for the first time ever since becoming a Member of this House, on going into my office this morning I found that the lights were not on.

My Lords, my noble friend’s Question is, in effect, about smart meters. At present, they are mainly available only for electricity, but apparently displays for gas and water are being developed. They are small, portable, hand-held devices, which can be used in the business or at home, allowing one to read the meter. More important, they can transmit to the energy company the amount of energy used, so estimated bills are not required.

My Lords, will the Minister kindly confirm that daylight saving is already effective in 108 countries and that nearly 3 million kilowatt hours and more than 1 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon would have been saved if daylight saving had been in place here last year? Why did the all-party drafting committee exclude daylight saving from the Climate Change Bill, which we will discuss tomorrow, in favour of untried offset carbon trading and socially divisive taxes? Is it because the party managers cannot work out how to tax the difference between night and day or is there scientific evidence that daylight saving will not reduce electricity demand and rising emissions in this country when it clearly does in 108 other, more enlightened countries?

My Lords, in preparation for the start of the Committee stage of the Climate Change Bill, I confess that I was astonished to learn last week that we would not be having debates on daylight saving. But that is not a matter for me; as the Minister, I do not decide these things.

My Lords, computers are an important aspect of energy use in offices. Can the Government, in their occasional meetings with Bill Gates, persuade him that, rather than having to go through a complex menu system in Windows to save your data, you could just turn the machine off or have it turn itself off after 20 minutes?

My Lords, I do not think that we should go to Bill Gates for the answers to all problems. Frankly, people ought to be able to save energy and money. It is really common sense. They should not need to be told exactly what to do by the Government.

My Lords, there is little doubt that we on these Benches are more heavily clad than most Members of this House apart, perhaps, from our legal officers. Does the Minister agree that turning the thermostat down by two degrees would both reduce the hot air and make us all more comfortable?

My Lords, I personally find this temperature comfortable, but it is being complained about on either side of me. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: turning the thermostats down a tiny amount—by one degree or a maximum of two degrees—would make a tremendous difference to energy saving and, therefore, carbon reduction.

My Lords, I do not think that it makes a difference. If it is down a couple of degrees, it would still be a saving.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any area with businesses and offices tends to be a blaze of lights from evening until morning? We really need to put the maximum pressure on business. If the cost of energy is not a sufficient deterrent, can the Government use its powerful position to initiate a debate with business so that it switches the darn things off?

My Lords, 80 per cent of carbon emissions from business comes from companies with an energy bill of over £50,000 a year. Those are the ones targeted by the Carbon Trust. I am told that sometimes—I am not up to date on this—the lighting system is part of the heating system, so the lights being on is not simply a pure waste of energy.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, concentrated on industry. Ought not energy savings start at home in the government departments? What is being done to save energy there and, indeed, in the Palace of Westminster, where lights are left on all the time? In winter, a huge draught comes through this part of the Palace, making the place freezing. For some of us who are getting on a bit, that is not healthy.

My Lords, on 6 December, the National Audit Office published a useful report—it is available only on the website, unfortunately, and not in the Printed Paper Office—on government departments and energy use. I am pleased to say that, leaving the Defra laboratories aside, Defra was lowest of all government departments, save for the Forestry Commission, on energy consumption and emissions and middle-ranking on carbon reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The full list is available to see who the poor and good performers are; I will see that it is in the Printed Paper Office as soon as possible.

My Lords, is it not clear that the Government and Ministers in particular—with the honourable exception of the noble Lord—are doing all they can to save electricity? They seem to be working in the dark all the time.