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Whichever way you look at it, we – as individuals – need to cut our energy consumption. Energy expert Nikki Jones explains how we can make significant changes to preserve energy in our day to day lives.

Words: Nikki Jones

Photo: cea +/flickr

The government is facing an ‘energy trilemma’: Keeping households out of fuel poverty, making sure we have secure supplies and at the same time cutting our fossil fuel usage. It  all comes to one happy consensus – the UK wastes vasts amounts of energy and we would simply be better off consuming less. It’s a win-win-win.

The problem is that energy consumption has become a cultural-behavioural issue, quite divorced from our actual needs. Most of us are simply unaware of how or where we consume. Our payments are just another direct debit that we do not relate to our individual actions. If we understood where our energy comes from, or even just compared our annual bill with our neighbours, it is likely that we would be turning down or off where possible.

So if you’re up for a really meaningful, and financially rewarding, New Year’s resolution, take the 10% Challenge. Aim to cut your electricity and gas consumption by 10% over 2016. That should be easy, so then aim for another 10%. Then look at your work environment.

Peak hours challenge

To make an exceptionally useful change, shift some of your consumption from peak-hours. The UK’s extra 6 GW of consumption between 4 and 8pm on winter’s evenings is forcing the government to spend billions on wasteful, and environmentally destructive, back-up generation.

In Bristol, we have narrowly – and possibly temporarily – prevented the installation of two diesel and one gas-fired plants which would have greatly added to the city’s poor air quality. These plants were aimed specifically at peak-hour needs.

Almost 20% of our consumption can easily be moved off peak hours. A 2013 study found that many households put their washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and water heaters on 4 – 8pm. Leave your vacuuming to the weekend or middle of the day, and programme your cleaning machines for the late evening or small hours – that will have a really significant impact.

Know where you energy goes – and where it comes from

First, you need to know what your consumption is. Tell your energy provider you will give readings on-line at the end of each month and ask to be debited accordingly. It’s easy and it allows you to compare your usage month by month and with the same period a year ago.

If the thought of talking to your energy provider brings you pain, then it’s time to move to a ‘green’ company where they not only provide you with 100% renewable energy but also excellent customer services. There are several to choose from and it’s easy to do. Just tell them your address and your current supplier and they will handle it. Another alternative is the new Bristol Energy Company that emphasises social responsibility and sustainability, though not all its power will be ‘green’.  

Reduce your consumption with some simple new habits

Then start looking at what’s consuming power in your home. There are plenty of websites to help you but here are some simple facts.

First, heating is by far our biggest bit of fuel consumption. Turning it down one degree will save 8% of your usage. Almost 90% of us use gas for heating and electricity as a secondary source, but a recent study showed many homes allow those electrical heaters to run 24 hours a day. We heat our homes to a much higher temperature than just a few years ago and wear lighter clothing. Invest in some jumpers and socks, turn the thermostat down and feel comfortable, virtuous and richer.

The biggest domestic all-year consumer of electricity is the fridge and the freezer, 36% of our summer usage and around 25% of our winter. It’s important to check yours is the right size for your needs, set at the right temperature with all seals intact. Replacing old appliances is one of the most effective moves we can make to lower consumption and shouldn’t be delayed just because the old one still works. (The same goes for ditching old light bulbs and buying LEDs.)

More than 5% of our usage is simply stuff on stand-by. We need a culture of turning off at the wall. This is particularly true of work environments where printers and computers are very heavy users of electricity even when they are inactive. At home, audio-visual equipment, microwaves and washing machines left on stand-by are a significant part of most people’s ‘baseload’ and therefore contribute to peak hour consumption too.

We are not powerless!

It’s easy to feel powerless when we look at world problems but in fact the reverse is true. As consumers in a wealthy country we are at the heart of the global economy. We ‘vote’ every time we choose a company to spend money with, or choose to consume at all. Reducing our direct consumption of energy is one of the most effective single moves you can make and it doesn’t have to be all hair-shirt. New Year is a good time to look at your behavioural patterns and consider the money, and the energy, you are chucking away.  It really is a win-win-win.

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