An overall fall in workplace energy consumption as a result of UK lockdowns in 2020 was largely cancelled out by an increase in personal usage, as the government’s work from home advice increased the nation’s reliance on personal gas and electricity, according to research by business energy supplier Gazprom Energy.
During 2020, while various lockdown restrictions were in place, average workplace electricity consumption across all industries fell by 6% versus 2019, according to Gazprom Energy’s usage data. Annual gas consumption across all sectors also fell by 1% for the same period.
Despite this perceived fall, many businesses may have unknowingly experienced an increase in total net energy consumption, when accounting for a remote workforce – with 37% more personal energy used in 2020, due to increased reliance on home lighting, heating and the use of home appliances while working from home.
The business energy supplier has encouraged organisations to educate themselves on their true total consumption by taking employees’ working from home consumption into account, and has launched an online Net Energy Consumption Calculator to make this process easier.
Gazprom Energy head of UK sales Daniel Sullivan said: “The misconception of a drop in total business energy consumption has the potential to distort some organisations’ advancement towards sustainability targets. It may give business leaders a ‘false reading’ of progress if the broader combined consumption picture isn’t considered.”
While different industries faced varied restrictions during the year, all sectors experienced a significant drop in consumption during the first and strictest lockdown period, in April and May 2020.
Consumption of electricity among businesses in the hospitality sector saw the largest fall (25%), with the industry one of the most heavily impacted by restrictions and closures, followed by financial services firms (19%) and the education sector (18%). Conversely, the manufacturing industry experienced just a 5% reduction in electricity consumption, with the majority of its workforce continuing to operate from the workplace rather than at home.
Changes in gas consumption also followed the same pattern, as restrictions evolved throughout the year. Manufacturing businesses saw a 9% fall in gas consumption in April and 15% in May. The drop was even greater among office-based businesses with an 18% drop in April and a 20% fall in May, when stay at home restrictions were in effect for non-essential businesses.
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimates the average household uses 3,731kWh per year. A year-on-year consumption increase of 37% adds a further 1,380kWh per year to each household’s consumption.
During the initial stay at home orders from the government, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported 51% of the nation’s workforce was working remotely, with this number even higher in some industries, such as in professional services, where 79% of staff were working remotely. Schools and universities also faced closure to all but the children of key workers.
However, once the strictest lockdown measures were eased, the ONS states that almost two thirds (62%) of adult workers resumed travelling to work again by September 2020. The figure stood at 55% as of April 2021, and is expected to have risen following ‘Freedom Day’ and the end of the majority of restrictions. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also found that 63% of employers plan to implement a hybrid working policy.
Sullivan added: “While we have all been taking the necessary health and safety precautions during the pandemic and reducing business travel, it is interesting to look at the consumption of energy by the nation and see where fluctuations happen. A fragmented workforce has resulted in fewer shared appliances and electronics, and an increase in individual activity has increased electricity and gas consumption as a result.
“While energy consumption by businesses in the majority of sectors naturally declined during the tightest lockdown restrictions – a 30% decline in Q2 2020 versus 2019 – consumption quickly returned to normal levels and the decline in overall consumption was less significant than many had anticipated as businesses adapted to the restrictions.
“These fluctuations and a reduction in business consumption of gas and electricity can also distort the perceptions of progress businesses are making towards their sustainability goals, with usage artificially lower as home consumption isn’t accounted for. Energy-saving measures that are present in the workplace may not be present in the home, such as energy-efficient lighting and smart metering, meaning efficiency is lost as a result of hybrid working. Businesses also benefit from economies of scale when their workforce is in one location using shared heating, cooling and energy for appliances and equipment.
“Although a net increase in energy consumption is inevitable for many businesses due to more hybrid working, there are ways that individuals can reduce their consumption depending on their situation and businesses should be actively communicating these to their employees.”