Let’s use less gas to help Ukraine

Nicola Terry and Jason Palmer

Europe wants to help Ukraine but Russia has an economic gun to our head through our reliance on Russian gas exports. Gas prices are already soaring because of sanctions that restrict gas trading – and Gazprom, along with other gas suppliers, are raking in higher profits as a result. This is not helping Ukraine. There is talk of cutting off supplies altogether but this will raise prices even more. The world market for gas is already very tight and Russia is the largest exporter by some margin [1]. Where would we get alternative supplies?

The only way to reduce prices is to use less gas, but this is easier for some than for others. Households that are already struggling with bills will face some very tough choices.

If you have already pared your heating to the minimum, there is less potential for savings.

We are not actually at war now, as such, but during World War II we used rationing to ensure everyone got a fair allocation of food and energy. Both petrol and coal were rationed, coal being the main heating fuel at that time.

We don’t have rationing now, but we can do our bit by rationing ourselves. One simple way to do this is to lower your thermostat. For a typical semi-detached house with filled cavity walls, lowering it from 20°C to 18°C reduces annual bills between 20% and 25% (using modelling for eight locations in the UK and Europe, shown). [2] For a less well-insulated home the proportional savings are less, but in absolute terms they are even greater.

Only 5% of gas consumed in the UK comes from Russia – most of ours comes from our reserves in the North Sea, and Norway. However, Russia supplies 40% of the EU’s gas. [3] If we reduced UK consumption there would be more to support other EU countries, so they are less reliant on Russian gas. This would be good for the UK’s balance of payments too.

Russia currently earns $56 billion a year from gas exports each year – just 14% less than it spends on the military. [4, 5] Doing what we can to reduce Russia’s gas exports is a direct blow against Putin’s war spending. In a market economy, one of the most powerful ways to change the world is to redirect spending – investing in the causes we support, not those we oppose. Putting on a fleece is pretty painless compared to what our friends in Kyiv and Mariupol are going through.

We don’t mean to patronise, and we would not suggest this is appropriate for everyone. However, speaking from personal experience, heating the person rather than the house is a useful strategy. Nicola used to keep the heating low but turned it up this winter because her husband has heart problems and now feels the cold much more than he used to. Then, as a Christmas present she bought him a battery-heated jacket which made it possible to turn the heating down again. The jacket is cosy even without the heating on, but if he feels chilly he just presses a button for extra warmth. The power comes from a battery pack similar to those for recharging mobile phones. It fits in a pocket and one charge lasts for several hours’ use. The battery uses a tiny fraction of the energy that Nicola has saved from lowering the thermostat for the whole house.

There are lots of other ways to reduce gas use at home and you have probably seen these elsewhere. [6] We think that now is a good time to do it. Reducing demand:

  • reduces your bills
  • helps to lower global prices – which is fairer for those in fuel poverty
  • reduces an important source of revenue, and foreign currency, for Russia
  • and is good against climate change as well.

For a more permanent fix against dependence on Russian gas, and energy security, you might also want to consider replacing your boiler with an electric heat pump, and using green electricity instead of gas for cooking.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/217856/leading-gas-exporters-worldwide/

[2] We used an extended version of the CODE Model for this analysis, see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/cost-optimal-domestic-electrification-code

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-58637094

[4]  https://www.statista.com/statistics/1032435/russia-natural-gas-export-value/

[5] https://www.sipri.org/commentary/topical-backgrounder/2020/russias-military-spending-frequently-asked-questions

[6] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/128720/6923-how-much-energy-could-be-saved-by-making-small-cha.pdf