The way we use electricity in our rural homes, and the opportunities for change, are important considerations for how we to transition to low carbon living. Unlike heat and transport, there are few significant differences between urban and rural dwellers in the type and way we use our electricity, but it is useful to consider rural household demand for, and use of, electricity and how this will change with greater electrification in the move to a low carbon society. This post, therefore, focuses on electricity, the final of the three modes of energy use (and so emissions) associated with rural living.
As noted, energy use can be split into three modes: heat (in the built environment); transport; and electricity. Previous posts in this series have provided an overview (for example here and here) of some of the issues for rural people in the Western Region in their transition to a low carbon society. I have also covered heat in our homes and energy efficiency and retrofit , and transport, why we travel and what we know about travel in the Western Region. As we are looking at rural dwellers, rather than the broader rural economy which would include agriculture and enterprise, the focus of this WDC work is on the way we use energy, in its different modes, as part of our daily lives.
While patterns of electricity use may not differ significantly between urban and rural areas, there are differences in relation to the supply of electricity in terms of generation, distribution and transmission which all have significant rural impacts and opportunities. These will be discussed in a future post on this topic.
Electricity use in the home
In 2018 the residential sector accounted for 30.1% of final electricity consumption, similar to that in 2005 (30.8%), with the significant difference that, in 2005, 7.2% of the electricity consumed came from renewable sources, while in 2018 it was 33.2%. It is targeted to be 70% by 2030.
There is little specific information about rural electricity demand and patterns of consumption, so before considering some of the potential difference between urban and rural households, it is useful to look at what we do know about household electricity consumption. In 2018, SEAI published Energy in the Residential Sector which gives details data for energy use in the home in 2016.
This shows that electricity accounted for 25% of Irish household final energy usage 2016 (compared to 37% from oil and 21% from gas. Most of this energy was used in heating (as shown in Figure 1) and oil and gas are the dominant fuels for this (as was considered in a previous post). The focus of this post is on electricity use in relation to appliances and cooking (20%). Water heating is generally considered along with space heating as much of it can be done by the central heating system.
Figure 1: Energy use in an average Irish home, 2016
SEAI, 2018, Energy in the Residential Sector
Between 2007 and 2014 final energy use of electricity per dwelling reduced by 16% having increased by 31% between 1990 and 2007 but more recent data show an increase in residential electricity consumption between 2016 and 2018.
The CRU provides a figure of 4,200 kWh electricity usage per year as an average for all households. Moneyguide Ireland estimates typical annual usage in kWh could be from 2,100 in a 1-2 bed apartment to 8,000 4-6 bedroom large house. As rural homes tend to be larger and detached consumption is more likely to be at the higher levels.
What are we using electricity for?
The lighting and appliances which account for 17% of energy use in the home are almost all powered by electricity. To understand what will change with a move to a low carbon household it is useful to remind ourselves about the appliances we have.
Data from the CSO Household Budget Survey (Figure 2) shows how common the different appliances were in our homes in 2015-2016.
Figure 2: Percentage of households with select household appliances 2015–2016
Source: CSO Household Budget Survey 2015-2016
Almost all households have a washing machine, a TV and a vacuum cleaner. The box below gives a sense of how we use energy with these appliances with an estimate of how long it takes each appliance to use 1 unit of electricity (1kWh). Each unit currently costs about 20c on average including VAT.