Sustainability and sustainable development have been described as achieving a better standard of living while:
- Using the resources of Planet Earth efficiently
- Realising continued social progress
- Enabling continuous economic growth and removing poverty
- Protecting the environment
It is clear from this description that if the inhabitants of Planet Earth wish to benefit from its aspirations then all must take actions towards the sustainability goals it outlines. These actions and benefits are considered in terms of the users of the energy and resources (Customers) and the providers of the energy and resources (Utility Companies) in the following text.
The effect Sustainability has on the Customer
Customers per se aspire to a better standard of living and the inter-governmental commitments set out the corresponding global consequences. In terms of understanding specific customer effects it is necessary to consider their customer categorisation, the source(s) of their sustainable energy and the actions required of them for introducing energy and resource efficiency.
Governments of developed countries have accepted that the attainment of the global aspiration on sustainability requires action at home combined with assistance for developing countries. In the UK the action at home has required the introduction of primary legislation and incentives to encourage investment in new and renewable technologies.
Primary legislation (EU and UK) has identified different grades of consumers or customers:
- Energy intensive organisations
- Non-energy intensive organisations
- Large public and private sector organisations
- Industrial and Commercial (non-domestic) organisations
- Private households
- Residential accommodation
These customers are either regulated by the legislation to reduce carbon emissions or encouraged through taxation or higher energy bills to improve energy efficiency. Their applicability or influence depends on a customer’s categorisation but in both cases the Government’s immediate aim is for all to benefit from lower energy costs, a better standard of living and an environment that is better protected.
Renewable Sources of Energy and Electricity
The Government has charged energy suppliers with sourcing an increasing proportion of their demand from renewable sources. Targets are expressed against total supplies of energy and electricity.
There are three principal sources of energy; fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable. In 2008 the proportions of globally consumed energy produced by these means was fossil fuels 78%, nuclear 2.8% and ‘renewables’ 19%. In the UK only 2.2% of energy is being realised through ‘renewables’ though the UK has a target to raise this proportion to 15% by 2020.
The production of Electricity is a similar story to that for overall energy production. There are four principal sources and their production proportions are fossil fuels 69%, nuclear 13%, hydro 15% and ‘renewables’ (non-hydro) 3%. In the UK in 2008 the production of electricity from renewable sources was 5.6% but it has targets of 10.4% for 2010/11 and 15.4% for 2015/16.
Energy and Electricity Users
Major domestic and industrial-scale supplies from both renewable and traditional sources are managed by the major utility companies and the current adequacy in capacity enables them to deal with peaks and troughs in demand. Thus the UK customer is able to rely on consistent power and continuity of supply; not all nations can give their customers the same reassurance. As a further reassurance to UK customers, Ofgem has been charged with monitoring reliability and protecting customers from the effects of market speculation.
The Government is also encouraging the development micro-generation technologies and enabling Parish Councils and Community Groups to invest in local suppliers of energy.
Micro-generation is defined as ‘the local or small-scale production of heat and/or electricity by homes and businesses from low-carbon sources’. It encompasses the energy sources and technologies defined in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 and is limited by the capacities defined in the same Act.
Whilst technologies are still developing, the Government allows some micro-generation plants to be hooked up to the national electricity grid which can deliver supply certainty and decreased costs to the customer through financial re-compensation schemes.
For an introduction to the different renewable sources of heat and energy including guidance on their supply and installation, follow the website reference to ‘the renewable energy centre’.
Low-carbon energy from ‘renewables’ and micro-generation plants will have a major impact on the UK’s commitment towards climate change. Between a quarter and a third of UK emissions are associated with housing and so there is a clear need for energy saving by domestic customers as well as those in industry, commerce and government. The clear message is that energy efficiency helps counter the on-set of climate change and reduces individual energy bills.
In global terms approximately 35% of human water use is unsustainable due to depleting aquifers and depleting river flows; a position that climate change will not improve. Indeed it poses a severe risk of water supplies becoming polluted even unsanitary. Therefore, Government strategies have been prepared (Defra: Future Water Strategy to 2030 and EA Water Resources Strategy and Regional Action Plans to 2050) to promote better management of the water cycle.
Consumers are being encouraged through regulation, licensing, metering and tariffs to take measures to conserve water supplies, reduce waste and prevent pollution. The EA Water Resources Strategy entitled ‘Water for People and the Environment’ gave commitments to:
- Promote incentives to reduce demand
- Improve water efficiency of fixtures, fittings and appliances
- Promote better information on product’s water efficiency
- Increase investment in technology for all types of use including agriculture and industry
This action will help to secure the quality and quantity of supplies with obvious benefits to the consumer.
Sustainable Housing and Products
The Government strategy for Sustainable Construction 2002 sets out 10 requirements for developments procured through central and local government offices. These were adopted into the OGC Achieving Excellence in Construction: Procurement Guide on Sustainability. In relation to energy, water and waste it requires developers to:
- Actively contribute to targets on reducing CO² emissions
- Define targets for energy and water consumption during construction and use.
- Assess any impact on local water, gas and their distribution networks
- Assess the impact on local sewerage systems and the risks to water pollution
- Locate developments in zones with little or no risk of flooding
These requirements bring obvious benefits to the consumer and in addition a great deal of research and innovation is taking place. Modern methods of construction and energy efficient building products are reducing emissions and the carbon footprint during construction and during the building’s life-cycle usage.
Government strategies on energy efficiency and climate change have encouraged changes in housing and construction in general. For example, Part L of the Building Regulations that outlines requirements on energy consumption has been extended by the Code on Sustainable Homes. It introduced a sustainability rating system for homes built after 1 May 2008 and includes minimum standards on energy and water efficiency that correspond to the 9 categories of sustainable design.
The Effect Sustainability has on Utility Provider
The regulatory framework outlined earlier requires energy producers (specifically electricity and gas) to take measures to conserve supplies and seek sources of renewable energy. In 2007 the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists declared, “There is a 90% probability that the atmospheric increase in carbon dioxide has been human induced and that is mostly the result of fossil fuel emissions and to a lesser extent changes in land use.” Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the commercialisation of renewable energy and developing less carbon-hungry technology is firmly in the lap of the utility providers.
The UK is currently, and is likely to remain for some time, the world’s largest single market for off-shore wind. The Energy Acts 2008 and 2010 have enabled investment in further off-shore gas supplies and research into the development of off-shore carbon capture and storage schemes that are intended to decarbonise electricity generation. The Acts also extended the requirement to supply an increasing proportion of energy from renewable sources to 2037.
Therefore energy suppliers are at the forefront of development of sustainable energy production. Inevitably, the investments made will be covered, at least in part, by government grant and higher returns from the customer.
Utilities are also required to act on energy efficiency. Under the Energy Act 2008 the utility companies are required to install 47 million ‘smart’ meters into 26 million households by 2010. These will allow both consumers and utilities to constantly monitor energy use and to take timely actions towards its reduction.
The Government’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) requires all major domestic suppliers to make savings in the amount of CO2 emitted by low income, vulnerable households. In partnership with local authorities and community groups the utility companies are promoting ‘whole house’ energy efficiency measures under the Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). This also targets low income areas but offers packages best suited to the individual household. The Green Deal, intended to come into operation in Autumn 2012, will streamline these two programmes into a new Energy Company Obligation to ensure households and businesses can benefit from energy saving. See website reference.
In the early 1990s research showed that humans were using between 40% and 50% of globally available freshwater in the proportions 70% Agriculture, 22% industry and 8% domestic. The Water Act 2003 required the water companies to agree plans to manage this supply and demand for the following 25 years. Defra and the Environment Agency have powers to regulate these plans and have also been given powers to amend abstraction licenses. In relation to future industrial, commercial and housing developments they require the developers to produce measures to support water neutrality, particularly in areas where water supply is under stress.
Being required to encourage water efficiency in domestic and non-household buildings, water companies and the EA are working in conjunction with regional planning authorities, to reduce water consumption. For example, the Regional Spacial Strategy for South East England has a policy commitment to reduce per capita water consumption from 169 litres / day (2003-04) to 135 litres / day by 2016.