February 28, 2024

The Ukraine crisis has marked a turning point for Europe’s gas consumption, which is expected to fall again this year as homes and firms embrace efficiency upgrades and heat pumps, according to the global energy watchdog.

A report from the International Energy Agency found that the continent’s developed economies reduced their gas use by 15% in 2022 after Russia cut off flows after its invasion.

European homes and businesses reduced their gas demand by a further 9% in the first three-quarters of this year, which could lead to a steady reduction in gas demand in the coming years, the IEA said.

It found that about 40% of the savings were the result of the mild weather last winter, but the majority were driven by a surge in demand for electric heat pumps and efficiency improvements.

The IEA expects the same trend to emerge in the US after the Biden administration included energy efficiency upgrades in its $369bn (£291bn) green stimulus package.

US homes and businesses are expected to cut their gas use by about 1% a year between 2022 and 2026, despite access to ample domestic reserves, as a result of better efficiency gains and the roll-out of heat pumps to help reduce carbon emissions caused by gas heating.

The IEA highlighted the need for better energy efficiency if global governments hoped to meet their climate targets days before the start of the Cop28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates, which begins on Thursday.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said: “The world’s climate ambitions hinge on our ability to make the global energy system much more efficient. If governments want to keep the 1.5C goal within reach while supporting energy security, doubling energy efficiency progress this decade is critical.

“The findings of this report are a stark warning to the leaders gathering shortly at the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai that they all need to commit to stronger action on efficiency and to deliver on it.”

The UK improved its energy efficiency by about 7% last year, according to the IEA, lagging behind neighbouring countries including the Netherlands, Ireland and France, which all reported an improvement of at least 12%.

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Consumer campaigners fear the UK government’s failure to prioritise policies that improve energy efficiency means millions of households will be forced to go without heating this winter.

A survey for the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, undertaken by YouGov, found that 41% of prepayment meter customers, or the equivalent of about 2 million households, have found themselves without credit on their prepayment meter and unable to access any energy in the last three months.

The survey also found that 43% of adults had chosen to go to bed early to stay warm, 13% had used appliances such as ovens to heat their homes and 23% had left curtains closed all day or put newspaper over windows to keep the cold out.

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