Energy use in a net-zero UK – lessons from lockdown

Energy use changed dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic, so what does that tell us about how to reduce energy demand and deliver a zero carbon energy system?

Non-energy related policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as limiting capacity on public transport, closing schools and encouraging people to work from home, have been highly interventionist. They have contributed to rapid changes in energy use, through changed travel and mobility patterns, revised working patterns and decreased economic activity.

Energy related policy responses to the net-zero challenge require changes of a different scale compared to those driven by the (non-energy) policy responses to the pandemic. They will require huge infrastructure investments and technological change, much of it at the point of energy use. The timescales are very different: years rather than weeks. Both the pandemic and the transition to net-zero can only be tackled with action across the economy and society. Some of the changes to energy use seen during the pandemic will indicate longer term routes to reduced demand for energy, for example, fewer miles driven, greater use of local services and new energy use patterns in the home. These also offer opportunities for substantial co-benefits (thermal comfort, economic innovation, cost savings).

The project team have developed a detailed understanding of both the observed effects of the pandemic on energy use and the changes likely to be required in energy use to deliver net-zero goals, looking at energy use before, during and after the pandemic.

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