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Energy In The UK - How We’re Trying Use Less

As a regular English reader of Keen For Green I’m able to keep up to date with the latest energy news from the US – and I thought it might be interesting for my friends “over the pond” to hear about the situation here in the UK.

The issue of energy is clearly one of the biggest challenges faced by humankind, and in the UK we’re acutely aware of the need to address the issues of overconsumption, and high carbon emissions. The European Union has set out a “practical guide to a prosperous low carbon Europe” known as the Roadmap 2050 project, whilst the British government has also implemented a range of policies designed to increase energy efficiency - including the introduction of smart meters, the Green Deal, the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme and Climate Change Agreements.

The UK’s energy saving policies

The Green Deal was launched in October of last year and permits the granting of loans for properties in the UK so that they can introduce energy saving measures. Repayment of the loans, which cover 45 different energy saving improvements, is made through energy bills and transfers with the property – so those who have to repay the loans may not be those who took them out.

The Green Deal has therefore been somewhat controversial, because new owners or tenants will be liable for a debt that they did not enter into, a situation which has never before existed in English law. The cost of repayments is intended to be outweighed by savings made on energy bills, but homeowners will still be liable for the Green Deal charge even if the projected savings do not materialise. The high interest rates (just under 8% on £5000 over 10 years), as well as expensive charges, have also been criticised.

Government estimates however have suggested that a typical family home (a three bedroom semi-detached) could save £270 a year just by installing solid wall insulation.

The CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme is a carbon emissions reduction scheme applying to large non-energy intensive organisations in the public and private sector, predicted to reduce emissions by over a million tonnes of carbon by 2020.

Positive signs of a reduction in UK energy consumption

The UK used its highest ever amount of gas in 2004, when 49.2 million tonnes was consumed; electricity consumption peaked in 1998 at 8.7 million tonnes, but this had declined to 4.9 million by 2008 – even with a growing population. Despite these positive signs of a decrease in the UK’s energy use, however, our overall consumption is still high and housing carbon emissions will have to be substantially reduced - by 80% - to meet EU directives.

The SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) rating of a home is how the British government calculates the energy performance of households, based on hot water and heating costs. The SAP runs on a scale of 1 to 100 and the average SAP ratings of UK households have, encouragingly, been gradually improving over the last four decades.

Of course, the government can only do so much to implement energy saving measures across the UK. It is our responsibility as individuals to reduce our own consumption of energy.

How we can all save energy in the home

1)      Improve your home’s insulation

Improving insulation can lead to long term energy savings, and reductions in your energy bills – which is particularly important during the turbulent economic times in which we are living. If you have an attic then it’s important to make sure it’s well insulated, as heat rises and can escape through the roof. Floor insulation is also important – even just laying large rugs on bare floors can help retain heat – as too is wall insulation.

If you live in a house without double glazing and can afford to replace the windows, upgrading will help retain heat. Gaps and cracks between window frames can be sealed inexpensively with weatherstripping. Curtains play an important role in heat retention – you should tuck them behind radiators instead of hanging over the front, and thermal lining can be purchased to keep draughts out - and heat in.

2)      Change your boiler

Home boilers account for 60% of the total spent on energy every year, and so having a modern and energy-efficient one is very important. It can be expensive to replace a boiler, but in the long run the savings you make will pay for its installation.

3)      Turn down your home’s thermostat

Many people have their houses heated to a temperature that could comfortably be reduced a little. It’s been estimated that here in the UK, households would save £60 a year simply by turning the thermostat down a mere 1%! It’s also quite easy to put on an extra layer of clothing instead of instinctively reaching for the temperature control.

4)      Switch off your appliances

When appliances are left on standby they can use a significant amount of energy. A standard DVD player, for example, uses 85% of its overall energy when left on standby. The long term energy and financial saving to be made when switching TVs, computers, and music systems off at the plug instead of lazily using the remote, is worth it.

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About the author: Brit Peacock is a keen energy saver currently writing articles on the issue for online UK curtains retailer Custom Curtains.

Energy pylons image credit: danxoneil