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Are People Consuming More Energy at Home or At the Workplace?

Remote working is now a new norm in light of COVID-19 lockdowns globally. In line with that, we are witnessing a major shift in the perception of work from companies both big and small. The oil giant BP for example recently announced a long-term commitment to remote work as part of its working setup.

Lockdowns have been proven to be a blessing for the environment. Research by Global Workplace Analytics indicate that working from home would slow carbon emissions by 51 metric tons annually. With jetliners stowed in sheds, cities emptied of humans, and factories shut down in 2020, early studies point to significant nitrogen dioxide and carbon emissions reduction around the world especially industrial intensive economies like China, South Korea, and Italy. Commercial transport, which is responsible for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions have seen a gradual reduction since the early months of the pandemic. Even on a microscale, working from home has palpable and direct environmental benefits – less paper usage; less plastic usage; improved air quality; reduced lighting, and low commuting time.

“If everybody in the world were to work from home for just one day a week, it would save around 1% of global oil consumption for road passenger transport per year. Taking into account the increase this would bring in energy use by households, the overall impact on global CO2 emissions would be an annual decline of 24 million tonnes (Mt) – equivalent to the bulk of Greater London’s annual CO2 emissions,” write Daniel Crow and Ariane Millot in a column published in the respected International Energy Agency blog.

If everybody in the world were to work from home for just one day a week, it would save around 1% of global oil consumption for road passenger transport per year

Nevertheless, working from home does not equate to a complete removal of CO2 emissions. We are still using a considerable amount of energy at home, from our very home cookers, computers, and lights – leaving behind a sizeable carbon footprint. This begs the question, is working from home one of the best ways to reverse our environment woes?

Overall, working from home does have real emissions positive outcomes as revealed by the IEA. In 2020 the global reduction in energy demand was expected to be a whopping 5%. However, to keep this energy demand sustainable, financial assistance from government is vital by offering producers and consumers energy tax incentives, rebates, or bridging finance.

In Malaysia, the government and national utility company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) announced a discount on electricity bills for households, industrial, agricultural and commercial enterprises especially those within sectors that were hardest hit by the pandemic. Discount between 5% and 40% will be given up to a maximum usage of 900 kilowatt-hours (kWH) a month. 40% discount is for usage that is below 200kWH and 15% discount for usage that is between 201kWH and 300kWH. Savings in electricity bill of up to RM346mil is anticipated for the consumers over the upcoming three months, beginning July. The rebates and discounts which were initially slated to end last year have been extended until ens-2021.

Across the causeway in Singapore, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) deferred grid charges amounting to S$343 million and maintained its grid fee to customers. It also distributed rebate vouchers to eligible households which could be used to discount their power bills. Households also received a one-off $100 Solidarity Utilities Credit for doing their part in staying home.

In Thailand, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) approved a discounted electricity tariff for households and small businesses costing a total of THB8.2 billion and benefiting 23.7 million users or 97% of total power users. Small businesses and households would also enjoy free electricity depending on usage which stands to benefit around 10.13 million users.

However, it also depends on the energy source. Different countries the world over derive energy from various sources – both renewable and non-renewable, with the latter having the far greater share. Iceland, for instance exploits its naturally abundant geothermal energy to power homes and buildings. Others like the US, India and China depend on fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

In the long term two things can be expected.

Firstly, working from home will likely be the norm of most business organisations, shifting much of the power demand from the commercial sector to households. Companies are reimagining and shifting towards hybrid working due to WFH and Covid-19. Even after the world slowly returns to normalcy, this new working approach is most likely to stay.

Twitter announced in May last year that its employees have the choice to work from home “forever”

According to a 2020 survey by CoreNet Global and Cushman & Wakefield, it reported that hybrid working models are highly likely to more than double post-Covid. Major companies like Twitter announced in May last year that its employees have the choice to work from home “forever”. Up until September 2021, Google allows its employees to work from home with plans to have a trial run on a flexible workweek once employees are back in the office.

As such, there will likely be a spike in household power usage and with that, an increased awareness of renewable energy use to dampen the inevitable rise in costs.

This would then accelerate the rate of energy transition as more people begin to push for energy source diversification. It stands to be a powerful bottom-up incentive for change, as opposed to the often times top-down approach taken by most governments through policy diktats. As such, we would likely see a proliferation of home solar and wind ownership as costs of such technologies plummet to meet the skyrocketing demand.

Suffice to say, remote working has its benefits in suppressing energy demand and thus decreases harmful carbon emissions. But that´s just one side of the coin – financial tax incentives, discounts, rebates to producers, and energy consumers are equally important to achieve sustainable energy demand management.

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