Report: Brexit standards bonfire could mean £90 on electricity bills

Scrapping energy waste standards on domestic appliances and lightbulbs could add £90 to household electricity bills if less efficient Chinese products flood the UK market after Brexit.

Currently, British appliances are using energy ever more efficiently owing to progressively higher European Union standards – standards of which nearly nine in 10 Britons approve. However, there have been calls for the UK to scrap such standards when we leave the EU, allowing supposedly cheaper non-European models to come into the market. China would be the most likely source.

New analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) of just seven best-selling appliances and light bulbs shows if all homes opted for less efficient models available on the Chinese market, annual electricity consumption would jump by around 3.5%. For comparison, EDF’s £20 billion-plus Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant will provide around 7% of the UK’s annual power demand.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said:

“Once outside the EU, Britain will be able to set its own standards on the efficiency of our fridges and hoovers, but heeding calls to throw current standards on a regulation bonfire could leave UK homeowners with an unexpected hike on their bills. Behind the scenes, successive British governments have led the way in shaping these standards, driving industry to make innovative, less wasteful products and so saving UK bill payers cash. The proof is in the lightbulb which will now last for decades and cost as little as 98p thanks to LED technology.

Despite more electrical appliances in our homes, households are wasting less electricity with use having fallen to a level last seen before 1970. Higher fossil fuel prices over the past decade have driven up the price of energy, but £290 has been taken off the average dual fuel bill since 2008 thanks to Government energy efficiency measures and EU standards. Electricity consumed by old-style incandescent light bulbs has fallen by 97% as more efficient bulbs have replaced them.

Ann Jones, Vice-Chair, National Federation of Women's Institutes, said:

“We know that British people like strong energy efficiency standards and don’t like wasting money around the home on power-hungry appliances. And when we add all those savings together they mean fewer new power plants pumping out less of the pollution that puts the balance of our climate at risk.

“We should be very proud as a country that since 1992 by taking sensible steps like introducing product standards the UK has led the G7 in reducing emissions to tackle climate change.”

Polling conducted by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the ECIU in 2015 found nearly nine out of ten (87%) British people support regulations to increase the energy efficiency of domestic appliances such as ovens and fridges [2], while a more recent 2017 survey of Conservative voters showed 85% were in favour of maintaining or improving energy efficiency of household devices.

Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy, UCL, said:

“The fact is that EU energy efficiency standards have saved UK consumers money, reduced the need for more power plants and enhanced energy security. Keeping pace with these standards in future will be vital for British manufacturers’ selling on the continent.

“The global trend is towards less wasteful appliances and it’s hard to conceive of any circumstances in which it could make sense to use Brexit as an excuse to weaken efficiency standards here.”

From 1st September new EU standards will reduce the maximum wattage of vacuum cleaners to 900w. Which? provoked a media ‘storm’ around the introduction of a previous standard urging consumers to “buy now if you’re looking for a powerful vacuum cleaner” but a year and a half later concluded “energy use has dropped drastically…while the average cleaning performance on carpet has remained relatively stable over the same period.”

Despite generally becoming more efficient during this time, the upfront cost of appliances has also been falling with the price of a washing machine down by a quarter between 2004 and 2014.

An influential Select Committee of MPs has warned that the UK “could become a dumping ground for energy inefficient products” were formal standards to diverge from those in Europe [10].

The report, Made in China: importing higher energy bills, is available here.