So far the narrative over power supplies during the Coronavirus measures has been one of falling demand. That is because swathes of industry and commerce has been winding down. But how much increase in domestic demand is that masking? With consumers locked in at home the cost will increase – especially for the many people who already struggle to pay their bills.
There is a broad question outside the Coronavirus measures that should also be considered. It becomes more important if, as seems likely, more people will continue to be home-based into the colder months.
Over the last few years we have seen the advent of home working and ‘hot desking’. The narrative is that the organisation involved is reducing the need for office space, and energy bills along with it. So they are.
But hang on. Some part of those energy bills are still being paid. But unless it is back to student days of many layers and gloves at home, it is individual homes that are being heated. Some are poorly insulated, for many the volume being heated per worker is much larger, it comes with extra costs for using computers, lighting etc for longer - and it is employees who are footing the bill.
Remote working often suits employees, with the benefit of lower commuting costs - especially if it is flexible. But overall, and given the state of the UK’s housing stock compared with offices, it seems very possible that the country’s energy use – and carbon emissions – may be rising as a result of it. Who knows? Do we have whole-system assessments that include both energy savings at the office and energy costs for the remote portion of workers’ time?
With so many employees working at home for weeks and months through the Coronavirus outbreak, care must be taken to ensure that energy bills do not rise far enough to tip them into fuel poverty. But equally it is surely a unique opportunity to pin down the answer to the broader question: how much are companies saving in the shift to remote working, and how much are employees paying?