The best way to beat energy bill rises is to cut consumption without affecting quality of life

Excuse me for a moment while I park the hair shirt in the corner and say very clearly that the best way to beat energy bill rises is to cut consumption without affecting quality of life.

Businesses and households across the UK are reeling from the price hikes announced by the Big Six energy companies controlling the UK’s market. The response seems to be a combination of austerity and punitive measures, with the energy barons pushing back on green taxes.

When did we forget being clever? Doing simple, proven, effective things to make sure we go on using less electricity, water and gas? We already have the easiest ways to drastically reduce our consumption through LED lighting, water-saving shower heads, taps and tap aerators and better heating management.

But all the political parties are seizing the bill-hiking opportunity to hurt their opponents and claim bragging rights over the country’s energy strategies. All of them are singing loud about the problems with the energy companies – the producers of the country’s most essential resources.

But none of them are focusing on what we think is the simplest, most cost-effective and long-term solution – cutting what we use in simple ways that do not reduce our quality of life. Forgive the cliche, but “It’s about Consumption, stupid”.

I’ve really lost patience with the Big Ideas promoted by the UK’s governments over the past decade. To be frank, there is no long-term, viable future for the country’s current energy policies. Take on-shore wind power, for example. The return on investment figures would make any sane person weep.

DECC projections say that the Government wanted to double the amount of onshore wind capacity in the country over the next 10 years. But Prime Minister David Cameron has recently poured cold water over that vision.

Currently 6.3 gigawatts of energy comes from onshore wind — around the output of 4,074 turbines. DECC says that the UK could produce between 10 and 12 gigawatts of energy from onshore wind farms by 2020.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance advises that the average price for full-service operations and maintenance for onshore wind farms, including scheduled and unscheduled maintenance works and component replacement, fell to €19,200 per MW annually in 2012, from €30,900 per MW in 2008.

That’s a relief – but onshore wind power remains the most expensive means of producing energy. There is a wealth of data available that narrates in complex detail the cost of on-shore wind power energy generation.

But as an easy snapshot, the BBC reports that a wind turbine providing energy for the Welsh Government’s Aberystwyth office, will not repay investment for around 452 years. Currently, it’s producing about £5 a month in energy. Awesome.

In a world where the market is king, it seems that alternative energy is different – part of the social wage but we all pay through the nose and hope it’s ok.

Take a small leap and calculate the time for return on investment, that is, the period until you start saving money on your energy bills, by replacing all lighting in a home or business with LEDs. Our figures show a return within three years maximum.

We’ve made proven savings with global hotel group Carlson Rezidor this year, working in partnership to deliver LED retrofits to their Rezidor Blu and Park Inn hotels throughout the UK and Ireland. The group has confirmed target first-year savings of around £250,000, based on early metrics.

Turning to the domestic front, we can argue the detail but even if we just look at the private housing sector, total owner occupied housing stock is around 17.7 million. We can be realistic and say that 15 million would be a reasonable estimate of the potential for significant energy savings.

Even in a typical home, people can recoup their outlay and then will go on saving more than £250 a year – and that’s in lighting alone. Add water reduction with eco shower heads, eco taps and tap aerators and the savings quickly reach nearly £600 a year.

That figure come from Lux magazine and if we take its typical annual home saving data of 1698.9 kilowatts by installing LEDs, we could make an educated guess about the reduction in consumption across the UK of around 25,500 gigawatts, based on our estimate of the energy-saving take-up in 15 million owner-occupied properties.

That’s 25,500 gigawatts less power a year needed – with no cost to the Government and a wake-up call to the energy companies to be more engaging.

For reference, demand for electricity in 2012 in the UK was 35.8 gigawatts on average and 57.490 gigawatts at peak.

As another comparison, the Coalition Government expects Britain’s nuclear capacity to be 11.3 gigawatts in 2020, when the planned new nuclear power station comes onstream. Up from 9.6 GW in 2019. The cost of that new plant will make your eyes water (just wait for the final bill). Keep an open wallet on this one.
Currently, there’s a big and growing gap between production and increasing demand. The energy producers are bobbing and weaving but the crunch is coming and we do face the realistic prospect of rolling power cuts and blackouts sooner rather than later.

Our answer is to cut consumption without affecting quality of life through simple steps that are cost effective, both for us and the planet. Business (even the Big Six) and households would benefit. We would cut CO2 emissions drastically. Maybe it’s just too easy an idea for the country’s leaders to grasp.



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