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Coal free record of 67 days was equivalent to taking 2.9m cars off the road

19th August 2020

As it's revealed 7 in 10 Brits were unaware of the coal-free milestone

  • Many adults are 'doing their bit' to combat the climate crisis - from reducing wastage (70%) to driving less (65%) to using more renewable energy (64%)
  • However, they aren't clear on just how these actions help to tackle climate change
  • Nearly a third were unaware of the importance of this for the environment
  • Smart Energy GB has teamed up with Energy Saving Trust and Carol Vorderman to explain why small actions - such as getting a smart meter installed - can add up and make a big difference

19th August 2020: The nation recently set a record of going over 67 days coal free - meaning we relied more on renewable energy to generate electricity, rather than burning fossil fuels. This is the longest period since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Whilst there were many contributing factors, such as the drop in electricity demand due to lockdown and the warmer weather, the record also illustrates how far we have come in relying on renewables and becoming 'smarter' in how we plan and use energy.

Research commissioned by Smart Energy GB reveals how much we understand about the importance of this milestone and how many Brits are still unaware of the collective, positive impact that their small actions can have on climate change.

The good news is that British adults want to help combat the climate crisis and they're already taking action. Many report that they've been reducing their waste and recycling more (70%), using less energy (66%), driving less (65%) and using more renewable energy (64%). Almost a quarter (23%) are concerned about their impact but are stumped on how to make a difference.

However, one in five (19%) were unaware coal is still used as a power source in the UK when greener sources of energy are available. It also emerged seven in 10 didn't know Britain achieved a record 67 days of not burning coal for electricity, and nearly a third didn't recognise the importance of this as a step in the right direction for the environment. What's more, over half (57%) didn't realise that means we're increasing our use of renewable energy.

To put that into context, during the coal free period we reduced our CO2e emissions by 5.5 million tonnes compared to the same period over recent years. That's equivalent to the CO2e emitted from 1.5 million homes each year or enough CO2e to fill 1.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to research from Energy Saving Trust*

Carol Vorderman explains why going coal free is so key: "Many years ago I worked as a civil engineer in an enormous hydro-electric station. It started my fascination with renewable energy. We have been transitioning from fossil fuels making our electricity, to renewables. A critical part of that is predicting how much energy will be needed and when. New tech, like smart meters, will help to do this and update our energy system.

"That's why the simple actions we take are so important, because when they are added together they're immensely powerful. Getting a smart meter installed is a small thing we can all do. Not only do they help us monitor how much energy we use, they'll also help fight climate change by helping us to rely more on renewable energy and enabling low carbon alternatives such as EVs.

"The easiest way to see how far we've come is to look at our recent 67 days without the use of coal fired power stations. A brilliant new record! And while there was low energy demand during those days, the record could not have been achieved without renewable energy - a huge feat that I'm very proud of".

Those who were surveyed also revealed:

  • Six in ten (59%) would like to be more educated on what exactly the climate crisis is and what they can do to help improve things;
  • A quarter of the nation said they believe their knowledge is limited due to the overwhelming amount of information;
  • 17% say they don't think they could confidently explain climate change to someone who had never heard of it.

Climate change happens when greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane and others - are released into the atmosphere. These gases trap the sun's heat which in turn causes the atmosphere to increase in temperature.

With half (52%) of the nation not understanding why it's important to go coal-free and 64% not understanding the importance of using less water, Smart Energy GB has worked with Energy Saving  Trust and Carol Vorderman to share a simple explanation of the effect of these small actions:

  • Having a smart meter installed - Getting a smart meter helps bring our outdated energy system into the 21st century. This is because the near real-time data smart meters provide will tell the smart energy system how much energy is being used, when and where across Great Britain. This will help us better manage the supply and demand of energy to reduce waste, and also shift energy usage away from traditional peak times - which are currently reliant on fossil fuel energy - and make more use of renewables.
  • Using less water - By using less water, we're reducing the amount of energy used in the pumping of water.1
  • Wasting less food - When food waste is taken to landfill, it isn't exposed to enough oxygen to allow it to naturally biodegrade. This means it rots and decays - allowing methane into the air.2
  • Using an electric vehicle (EV) - Although the exact reduction in carbon dioxide depends on the electric vehicle, rather than using petrol which is a fossil fuel, EVs are powered by electricity. Therefore, as we switch to using more and more renewable energy, EVs will cause fewer carbon emissions.3
  • Using public transport - Public transport moves more people with fewer vehicles which requires less energy and therefore transports less fuel. it also allows other drivers and their passengers to get to their destinations faster and use less fuel. As most vehicles are powered using petrol or diesel which are fossil fuels, reducing the number on the road limits the amount of greenhouse gases produced.4

Robert Cheesewright from Smart Energy GB says: "Making changes to the way we live will allow us to move away from fossil fuels and become carbon neutral. Part of the road to a reduction in fossil fuel usage is to upgrade our outdated energy system. And everyone can play their part in this important upgrade by getting a smart meter installed.

"It's great that everyone is so keen to do their bit to combat climate change and want to know more. Even small things like remembering to turn lights off and washing clothes at a lower temperature - it all adds up. The recent coal0free record, which was partly a result of the low electricity demand, has given us a glimpse into the renewable energy future. Smart meters are at the heart of this and will unlock the potential for other green and smart technologies."

To request a smart meter installation, contact your energy supplier.

-ENDS-

Notes to editors

How other small every day actions help in the fight against climate change

To fight against climate change, we can all take small actions to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases such as:

  • Using energy efficient lightbulbs or appliances - Energy efficient appliances simply use less energy.
  • Switching off things which aren't in use, such as a TV on standby or a light when not in the room - When TVs or lights are on standby they're still using a small amount of energy - over time this adds up. In fact, you can save around £30 a year just by switching things off which aren't in use.As we still use fossil fuels to produce electricity, turning these items off reduces the amount of greenhouse gases produced.
  • Using more renewable energy - Switching to a renewable energy tariff or supplier will ensure that you use a sustainable supply of energy that produces a significantly lower carbon footprint over its lifecycle.6
  • Consuming less meat and dairy - Meat and dairy products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because animals are inefficient at transforming plant energy into animal energy. Additionally, methane is released from manure management and by the digestive processes of animals such as cattle and deer.7

*The half hourly readings for each electricity generation type were converted to megawatt hours for the 67-day period of each year from 2015 to 2020. these were summed to provide the total megawatt hours of electricity generated in the UK by different sources. This includes coal, oil, wind, nuclear, hydro, biomass, combined and open cycle gas turbines and imports from France, Ireland, The Netherlands and Belgium. the megawatt hours of electricity were converted to kilowatt hours and multiplied by the average grid carbon intensity factor for each energy source, to provide the kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted per kilowatt hour of electricity.

The average carbon emissions were calculated for the years 2015 to 2019 to provide a representative value and to avoid an anomalously high or low generation year from distorting the result. This was compared to the value for 2020 and the difference indicates the savings associated with no generation coming from coal.

The following assumptions were made:

  • Electricity generation data was not available prior to 2015
  • The same 67-day period has been taken for each of the years evaluated

Additional sources:

  1. https://www.south-staffs-water.co.uk/help-and-advice/read/how-does-saving-water-help-the-environment-200100000002621#:~:text=By%20using%20less%20water%2C%20we,and%20leads%20to%20climate%20change.
  2. https://www.greenerscotland.org/food-waste/about-food-waste/why-is-food-waste-important
  3. https://www.drax.com/technology/electric-vehicles-carbon-emissions/
  4. https://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/engines-equipment/public-transportation-help-environment.htm
  5. https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/about-smart-meters/coronavirus-update-smart-meter-rollout/10-energy-saving-tips-during-coronavirus-lockdown
  6. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-017-0032-9
  7. http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet#:~:text=Meat%20products%20have%20larger%20carbon,and%20enteric%20fermentation%20in%20ruminants.

About smart meters and the rollout

Britain is committed to a cleaner future - one with zero carbon, zero emissions and reduced pollution.

To make this happen, our nation requires a major upgrade to its energy infrastructure, specifically, it requires the creation of a smart energy system. Smart meters, which replace traditional, analogue meters, are the building blocks of a more reliable, clean and affordable energy infrastructure, allowing Great Britain to better manage energy use, transition to mass uptake of electric vehicles and to build a greener economy.

There are already 17.3 million smart meters installed in homes and microbusinesses across Great Britain. Every household in England, Scotland and Wales can now see their energy use in near real-time, receive accurate bills and do their bit for the planet, by requesting a smart meter, at no extra cost, from their energy supplier.

About Smart Energy GB

Smart Energy GB is the campaign for a smarter Britain. it's our task to help everyone in Great Britain understand smart meters, the national rollout and how to use their new meters to be cleaner and greener with their energy use. Our national campaign is reaching households and microbusinesses in England, Scotland and Wales. For more information visit our website smartenergyGB.org

Smart Energy GB media contacts

For more information including interview requests, case studies of smart meter users, infographics, photography and video content please contact the Smart Energy GB media team: [email protected]

About Energy Saving Trust

Energy Saving Trust is an independent organisation dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, low carbon transport and sustainable energy use. We aim to address the climate emergency and deliver the wider benefits of clean energy as we transition to net zero.

We empower households to make better choices, deliver transformative programmes for governments and support businesses with strategy, research and reassurance - enabling everyone to play their part in building a sustainable future.