Cool Water

Sara Fakhro

19 August 2013

Energy consumption is commonly thought to be both significant and rising, so a report last week showing that the opposite is true in our homes provides some happy reading for those of us who do not hold shares in utilities companies.

Consumption of gas and electricity combined, according to a recent report from the Office of National Statistics, has fallen by a quarter between 2005 and 2011. There are substantial variations across the regions, with the East Midlands consuming the most energy per household and the South West consuming the least. Generally speaking, gas accounts for three quarters of our domestic energy consumption and electricity just one quarter, and areas believed to have higher household incomes tend to consume more energy.

Apart from money being tighter than ever and increasing energy prices forcing people to use less, what else might be driving this trend for decreased consumption? Various campaigns, including publicity surrounding the Green Deal, may mean that consumers in England and Wales are somewhat wiser about conserving energy, whether to protect the environment or just their own pockets. Producers, too, are playing a role, as energy ratings are increasingly used to market products, such as boilers, washing machines and other household appliances, meaning consumers can knowingly choose more efficient options.

The Consumers’ Association suggests that households could still be wasting up to £300 per year on poor energy efficiency, however. The Government’s response was to launch the Green Deal last year; this was intended to enable ‘the provision of fixed improvements to the energy efficiency of households and non-domestic properties, funded by a charge on energy bills that avoids the need for consumers to pay up front costs’ in England, Scotland and Wales. Put simply, it facilitates a loan that is taken out against the value of a property (domestic or business) to make energy efficiency improvements to that property. That loan is then repaid through energy bills, i.e. the difference between what you would have paid before the improvements and the savings you have incurred through carrying out the improvements. Such loans could take up to 25 years to repay in full and savings could vary significantly depending on the work done. Loft insulation worth £80, for example, might incur an annual saving of £175, and £15 worth of hot water tank insulation is likely to save consumers something in the region of £40 per year.

Along with other initiatives, such as the Warm Front and Re-Charge schemes and Insulate Hampshire, the Green Deal can probably be credited with some increased awareness of energy efficiency and the resulting savings. The Energy Saving Trust is also trying to influence us to reduce our consumption, highlighting the waste of energy, for example, in overfilling our kettles, showering for longer than we need to and washing our clothes at higher than necessary temperatures. If we spent just one minute less in the shower each day, according to the Carbon Trust, we could save a total of £215m a year (that’s between all of us, of course).

So it’s good news for those who pay the household bills, good news for the environment, and bad news for the tea-drinking shower monster, whose energy bills remain high. While consumption could, and should, be decreased further, there needs to be greater analysis of why some regions are using less per household and a means to communicate the need to, and ease of, reducing energy consumption to those with higher incomes. More information on why some areas (and people) are still using more energy than they need could lead to more targeted, more effective communication strategies and campaigns.

For now, however, the likes of Sam Laidlaw (Chief Executive of Centrica) and his energy peers can rest easy in their hot tubs; there’s plenty more research that needs to be done before we’re all convinced that we can actually shave that additional £300 off our annual bills without compromising our lifestyles.

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