Q3 2023: Is electricity demand about to take off after a decade of decline?

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Electricity demand fell 5% over the last year, but has it now hit rock bottom? Demand during Quarter 3 hit a new low for the time of year, dipping below 60 TWh over the last three months.

The mild weather was partly responsible: no heat waves in July and August meant there was little need for air conditioning. September was the warmest on record, so heating demand did not ramp up until the end of the quarter.

A bigger reason though was the continued fall in core demand. High power prices force people to cut back on anything that consumes electricity. Demand in 2023 has been lower across the board: during every week of Quarter 3 it was the lowest in decades. Over 1 GW of demand has disappeared since just last year, equivalent to one large power station not needing to run 24/7.

This is part of a larger trend. Demand has been falling by 5 TWh per year since 2005. Improving efficiency (lighting, televisions, fridges, etc.), fewer homes using electric heating, and deindustrialisation all play a part. This year could mark the turning point though, with demand starting to grow again after 20 years of decline.

Weekly average electricity demand over Quarter 3 this year, last year, and over the preceding decade

New sources of demand will be the driving force. Each electric vehicle consumes an average of 1,500–2,000 kWh per year, so the 1.5 million now on Britain’s roads are equivalent to adding around one million homes.

Similarly, the country’s 250,000 heat pumps are consuming as much electricity as an extra half a million homes.

Electric vehicles and heat pump sales are skyrocketing. They each consumed 1% of demand in 2022, but that is expected to grow 5-fold in  just five years. Every single month this year has been a record for new heat pump installations, and this year has so far seen another 380,000 new electric vehicles on Britain’s roads.

Over the 2020s and 2030s, electricity demand is projected to grow three times faster than during the 1980s and 1990s. Not only will this require new investment in infrastructure (like vehicle charging points), it will require more rapid growth of clean sources of electricity to reduce the risk of carbon leakage from end use sectors to the power sector.

Annual electricity demand over the past four decades, with National Grid’s scenarios for future demand out to 2040

How much electricity do the UK’s electric vehicles and heat pumps consume?

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