Brighton Webs Ltd.
Statistics for Energy and the Environment
So What Changed?
My wife's Grandfather kept reciepts for major purchases from 1924 to 1948, far from being a dull read, they are a fascinating insight into family life between the wars. Some things were familiar and others seemed strange. Listeners to Radio 4 Extra may have heard bygone commedians quipping about theatrical digs being "14 and 6 a week and a penny a day for cruet". In this archive, there are several receipts for holiday Hotels and B&B with a 1 shilling charge for cruet (salt and pepper). The schedule of death benefits from an insurance policy starts with £600 for a train wreck, £100 for a car accident and £50 for coming to a bad end on a bicycle (with the stipulation that the rider was not drunk), showing that perception of risk has not changed much. One item which was unfamilar was doctor's bills as the NHS was not established until 1946.
In 1926 Grandfather paid an electrician £12, the equivalent of £600 in 2011 money to wire the house for electric lighting. There appears to be a 100 watt light in the living room, a 60 watt bulb in the kitchen and 40 watts each in the bedrooms and maybe the hall or landing. Prior to this the house had been lit with gas. My house and his were both built sometime between 1900 and the start of the Great War, mine seems to have had similar modifications, the old wiring suggests one electric light per room and the pipes for the gas mantles are still in the walls. For the first two years he was on a light only tarriff paying 6d/unit which translates to more than £1/kwh in today's money. By modern standards, the house would have been dimly lit, maybe not much brighter than the gas mantles, but unlike gas mantles, eletric lights did not need cleaning. Tending a house lit by gas and oil and heated by coal was a dreary, almost full time job, the electricity companies hardly needed salesmen, housewives did the job willingly. After a couple of years, the family embraced electricity, added some plugs to the skirting board, purchased a vacuum cleaner and a valve radio for £17 and £25 respectively (£800 and £1,200 in 2011 money). They also changed tarrif to one with a standing charge of 10 shillings and a unit charge of 1d (approx. 20p/kwh) Both these devices where the subject of correspondence over the following years, the life of the valves in the radio seems to have been less than expected and the hoses on the cleaner were prone to failure.Two electric fires were also aquired, the largest of which was 2kw. In my family, elecric fires were only used when when someone was ill as they were expensive to run, the electricity bills do not suggest they were used much. Apart from an electric iron, no more large applicances were acqured, althoug a few more light sockets might have bee added to the circuit.
For the most of the decade preceeding the Second War, Grandfather's household was consuming between 500 and 700 kwh/year. During the war years austerity and rationing affected everybody's lives and at a guess electricity was only used sparingly for lighting and powering the wireless, the average for the war years being approximately 400kw/year After the war, old routines re-established themselves.
The graph below contrasts the electrical consumption of Grandfather and Granddaugher:
In simple terms, we consume approximately 2,500 kwh/year whilst our forebears used just over 500 kwh/year. The households are broadly similar each with two old adults and two young ones. A washing machine, fridge, entertainment electronics and a couple of computers consume somewhat less than 1,000 kwh/year, so that leaves 1,500 kwh for lighting. Whilst grandfather probably had less than 10 lamps most of which were 60 watts, whilst we have about 25, all of which are CFLs typically between 10 and 20 watts and another guess is that they are on longer. So the difference can be attributed to different expectation and management. We have grown up to believe that our house should be brightly lit and maybe we are not as good at turning the lights off as we should. Sadly, I am turning into my father and shouting at my young adults to "turn the light off".
Expectation often get a mention in this type then and now comparison. Energy conservation is not only about turning the lights off, that does help, but so too does technology. My family are a little bored with my enthusiasm for LED lighting. In our house, the equivalent of Grandfather's 60 watt lamp is probably a 10 to 20 watt CFL. A few months back I purchase a couple of LED lights, these are 5 watt and 7 watts and they have droped the electricity consumption by approximately 0.5 kwh/day and I have already got payback on my £12 investment. It will take a little time and creativity get the house fully lit with LED lamps but when that process is complete, the gap between my electricity consumption and Grandfathers will have narrowed.
The graph below shows the installed capacity of the lamps used to light the room I in which I work:
It clearly shows technology's ability to curb energy consumption.
LEDs and Solar Panels are relatives in more ways than one. These numbers are taken from the back of an envelope. Say 1% of houses have solar panels on the roof, maybe the average yield of a rooftop PV installation is 2,500 kwh and maybe FIT add £10/year to the average electricty bill. If 100 households spend £10 on two LED lamps and that reduces their consumption by 100 kwh/year, the overall saving is 10,000 kwh. Unlike the rooftop PV, which yield for a few hours either side of solar noon in summer, the LED save energy at times of peak demand which is early evening in January and December when the sun is not shining. This is another strand of the Negawatts vs. Megawatts debate.
Like me, Grandfather was an engineer, hopefully, he would have approved of my logic.