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Energy: Voltage Optimisation

Volume 736: debated on Monday 12 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to promote lower electricity bills through the uptake of voltage optimisation, as installed in 10 Downing Street.

My Lords, energy efficiency is the cheapest way of cutting emissions and cutting bills for customers. My department launched the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office, EEDO, earlier this year to drive energy efficiency across the UK economy. EEDO will build on our existing policies, which are already encouraging the uptake of energy efficiency measures such as voltage optimisation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. However, is he aware that voltage optimisation is not receiving all the support that it is due because of its exclusion from the energy efficiency rating system of buildings, known as SAP? This effectively excludes it from many policies that support energy efficiency and is an example of how we adopt an extraordinarily bureaucratic approach to energy efficiency, which is hampering innovation in this area. I hope that he will pledge to do all he can to remedy the situation so that voltage optimisation receives the support that it deserves.

It may be of assistance to noble Lords, although science is not my strong suit, if I explain what voltage optimisation is.

I am glad that that finds favour with your Lordships. As on a previous occasion, I am grateful to Wikipedia for supplying this valuable information. It states:

“Voltage optimisation is an electrical energy saving technique which is installed in series with the mains electricity supply to give an optimum supply voltage for the site's equipment”—

in other words, as has been done in No. 10, to which the noble Baroness rightly pointed, and in our department, where we have put in this optimisation technique for reducing our own electricity demand. Therefore, it is very worthy of consideration. The problem with it is that it does not have a universal remit and is not necessarily applicable for domestic use. However, we would certainly encourage all commercial property to use it.

My Lords, will the Minister also encourage the development and use of direct-current ring mains in office buildings? This would mean that transformers could be done away with and inverters placed on the tops of buildings to be air-cooled, which would dramatically reduce the amount of energy. The problem with all new technologies is making sure that they meet the energy ratings. I hope that EEDO will look at this, because the department has an obligation under the Climate Change Act 2008 to bring down the amount of emissions coming from the built environment; last year, they went up.

This is already turning into a very technical Question. My noble friend asks a very relevant question: how can we aggregate electricity usage and reduce it by a central technique? That is what the eco-design directive from the EU is encouraging. It is looking at this as an efficiency measure as we speak and I am hopeful that the outcome will be positive.

My Lords, some 255 years ago today, we shot an admiral to encourage the others. Does the Minister believe that we could perhaps come up with some more exciting incentives to make people take energy efficiency more seriously?

I am tempted to shoot an admiral every now and then, although not of course the noble Lord, who has distinguished service. This is all part of the Government’s policy. I shall not rehearse all our marvellous policies at the moment—I am not saying that shooting the admiral is part of the Government’s policy—but clearly the Green Deal is part of them. We reduce demand on electricity and energy by not using it, and we have to find ways of not using it and educate people so to do. That is the only way out of these spiralling upward prices.

My Lords, is not the simplest way to save electricity to incorporate daylight saving into the Government’s policies?

I congratulate the Minister on his reply, which is accurate—Wikipedia generally is. Admirals might be electrocuted as well as shot if they do not understand some of these problems clearly. This is a very complex subject with many factors, including the cost of retrofitting a lot of equipment. I looked at some of the data over the weekend and it struck me that the experiment that is being carried out in No. 10 might be quite useful. Can the Minister tell me what efficiency gain No. 10 got and how much it cost?

This is the first question I have been asked. The overall reduction in energy consumption and carbon reduction in No. 10 was 10 per cent. That was in line with government demand. I can tell the noble Lord that we achieved 13.8 per cent over government, but I am afraid I cannot answer his question about specific costs. I shall be happy to write to him on that subject.

My Lords, the Minister said that he was no scientist and I have to say that I share that with him; I am certainly no scientist. However, I fail to understand his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. Is or is not the voltage optimisation scheme that she is recommending part of the energy reduction that the Government are trying to promote?

The Government are not here to take on all sorts of design that come in, although we are obviously keen to promote any reduction in electricity demand or supply, particularly in demand—and voltage optimisation is one such thing. It is already in existence. We have led by example, as I have indicated, in our department and No. 10. We encourage all people to look at it on a commercial basis because it saves on electricity demand. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness’s question. I repeat for her benefit that I am not entirely clear whether it is of benefit in domestic situations. I have asked my department to organise a workshop on the Green Deal in the next month to study it carefully.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in 1757, after the unfortunate death of Byng, a French admiral wrote to Voltaire and said that in similar circumstances he would have done exactly the same thing as Byng. I hope that my noble friend is pleased to have French support in these matters.

I am sure I echo the sentiments of the House when I say that to have French support for anything is rather unusual but extremely valuable. I thank my noble friend very much.

My Lords, I share with the noble Lord the fact that I am not quite scientific either. However, notwithstanding Wikipedia, all we are talking about is being as conscientious about energy efficiency coming into a building as we are about using energy in the building or losing it through poor insulation. The noble Lord has made several references to the Green Deal. Is he aware that currently voltage optimisation us not eligible under the Green Deal for commercial or domestic buildings? When he holds his workshop it would be helpful if he could look at changing the rules of the Green Deal. DECC has saved £19,000 a year on its energy bills, and many businesses would find that advantageous.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, as always, for her support on the Green Deal and for the work that she has carried out on it. As I said, the reason for the workshop is to look very carefully at the issue to see whether it can form part of the Green Deal. When we have come to our conclusions, I will be very happy to share them with her and with the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington.