Nudge towards the cliff edge
So we participated in the National Grid's “Savings Sessions” last night via our energy supplier Octopus Energy.
We sat with one dimmed LED bulb and candle light for an hour in an effort to use less energy during a peak period, 5-6pm. (This is the period when typically, in winter, the government has to fire up dirty sources of energy, and pay horrible companies hundreds of millions of pounds to keep the lights on.)
We did so all the while believing that our government and our country has this all wrong.
Behavioural “nudges” are not going to save us from the cost of living crisis and climate crisis we are in.
We need to become an energy-literate country. And I don't mean we all need to learn how to maintain and repair diesel-powered generators, like friends in parts of the world with no reliable energy grid. (BTW dirty generators are featured as what's hot at Machine Mart, I pass their storefront often.)
We need to understand how our power demand corresponds — or doesn't — with the renewable energy we generate, so we can kick our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
After taking a Demand Energy Equality course a couple of years about energy and living off-grid, I learned the stuff you should learn in school about energy demand.
Everybody should know what the “duck curve” is – the mismatch between production and demand in a power system increasingly dependent on renewable energy.
There is the infamous “TV pickup” phenomenon – simultaneous use of electric kettles during primetime viewing causes massive spikes in demand and the UK power grid has literally been designed to allow for this. (With huge inefficiency. Hopefully the death of terrestrial TV among the younger generation will take care of this one particular problem.)
The most important thing to understand is that when we need it most, morning and early evening, we don't have solar energy. And on a cold day without wind, we are doubly in trouble.
I played a big role in promoting community repair in the UK over the past decade, and all of this work built on the “make do and mend” messaging from World War Two that my mother's generation grew up with. These values are very deeply held, or at least easily revived.
While our government balks at this kind of public messaging for ideological reasons, this country has a great tradition to build on. (I'm troubled by some of the nationalistic aspects of previous war-time mobilisations, but I believe it's possible to remix this for our times.)
The UK government should be asking people to regularly use less energy at peak times on days with no wind, like other European countries.
Behavioural nudges like “Saving Sessions” put a feel-good bandage on problems of a much bigger scale, and literally keep people in the dark about these problems.
They don't include everybody, as they only include people with smartmeters. People who pre-pay, already paying a poverty premium, are excluded. Some of them may have been in the dark, but because they simply could not afford to feed the meter.
For those who could participate in this scheme, our future will not be by candlelight, but equally, we will not be able to continue to use energy at the intensity and in the pattern we do now. The sooner we contemplate all of this, and start to change our regular habits, the sooner we reach a just and equitable energy system for all.
If we don't, we are literally nudging ourselves towards a cliff-edge.
“Maybe it's time to look down. Time to look for some hand and foot holds before we just get pushed in” — Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower