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Top 10 Questions: How To Save Energy – Live Chat Round Up

Friday October 10th 2014

We pick the best questions and expert answers from our live debate on cutting energy bills and carbon emissions.

Our experts share their advice on how to save energy at home and at work.

Are products such as Nest Living and the British Gas Hive thermostat really effective at cutting energy consumption?

How much energy these technologies can save depends on your starting point. As Brian Horne, senior knowledge manager at the Energy Saving Trust, says:

If you’re already managing your heating well with standard heating controls, then you won’t save much more with a more complicated system. But if the extra features will allow you or encourage you to manage your system better then savings could be significant.

Ian Byrne, deputy chief executive at the National Energy Foundation, warns of a “law of diminishing returns” on the products. If you’re already thinking carefully about managing energy usage, it will take much long to recover the initial investment. Sara Bell, managing director of Tempus Energy, adds:

The real benefit of these products is that it is possible to set them to use energy at cheaper times as long as the electricity supplier pays for the real amount of energy used in real time through half hourly settlements. Customers can get a real return on this investment.

What are the main inhibitors to stopping the reduction of domestic energy consumption?

Byrne says the “hassle factor” is what puts most people off managing fuel bills more effectively – it’s always easier to moan about it, and say you’ll get around to making some basic home improvements, than to actually make changes to your life.

Amy Brann, an expert in behaviour change, says lack of motivation is a real hurdle to getting those bills down:

From what we know about people, human motivation is a complex area. However we know that we are more easy to influence than a lot of us would like to believe.

I have been researching a replacement tumble dryer. Those rated A+ for energy use, with heat pump technology, are twice the price and seem to need to be run for longer. What’s the point?

Myles McCarthy, director of implementation at the Carbon Trust, says manufacturers and retailers of electrical goods including tumble dryers should be able to offer a whole life cost assessment to help inform future purchases.

This is a crucial step when looking at buying energy consuming equipment in the home or in a business, and is very often overlooked. So many organisations and households ignore the running cost and seek to minimise the upfront cost.

LED lightbulbs are a good example of this dichotomy. A good quality LED may cost up to £10 more than a halogen bulb, but will save 80% on the electricity consumed.

Are there now clear figures on energy cost savings for any home efficiency improvements?

The panelists agreed that published figures for savings needed to be viewed with caution as they are based on many underlying assumptions which can vary between households and users. And data in itself is hard to find and to compare. Hugh Goulbourne, partner at Global Action Plan, says:

The main challenge we have had when running energy saving projects with households is collecting quantitative data that validates the large amount of reported actions (qualitative data) that we collect. In this respect we are looking forward to the world of smart… so that we can more easily track real household energy data.

Why do we not have a smartphone app which would allow us to monitor real time consumption and be able to switch appliances on or off?

Sara Bell explains:

Without smart meters the data needed to deliver this information isn’t available. Once a customer has a smart meter it is possible to give this info on a smart phone.

What options are available for moving towards more renewable energy when living in rented accommodation?

With so many households now priced out of home ownership, the question of managing energy in a rented property is a pertinent one. Oliver Wright, Top 10 Energy Efficiency programme manager for campaign group Keep Britain Tidy, advises talking to your landlord about your plans. They may be happy to help install energy efficiency measures or renewables – especially if it increases the value of their property. “They may also like the idea of a tenant going through any teething problems, rather than them,” he adds.

Rob Hopkins, catalyst and outreach manager at Transition Network, has a more controversial suggestion:

If [the] motivation for wanting renewables in a rented property is to reduce carbon emissions, you could have more impact by deciding not to fly – one long haul flight makes most domestic energy reductions irrelevant – or, dare I say, eating less meat.

Are LED lightbulbs worth it?

Although replacing standard bulbs with LEDs can be tricky, where modern lighting techniques can be used, they should. Brian Horne says:

They’re definitely worth it if they can do the job you want them to. I’ve replaced all my halogen downlighters with LEDs and they give just as much light for far less power. Be careful to check the output in Lumens (this should be shown on the packet). You will want 300 Lumens at least to replace a 50W Halogen otherwise you’re going to be disappointed.

Does the arrangement of institutions in the energy industry help or hinder the reduction of energy use in households?

There is another way to do things, and there are many international examples of good practice to draw upon. According to Hugh Gouldbourne, 10 US states now offer incentives to energy companies to reduce demand from household consumers. He adds:

This means that both the customer and the energy company win if energy consumption is reduced. The government also wins because we as a nation can spend more on other things (for example, healthcare). Italy has just moved to this sort of regulatory regime. We could do the same here but we need the energy regulator, Ofgem, to be given some new powers, and for the government to move quickly on its reforms to the electricity capacity market.

How can you help communities to engage with energy saving?

Ian Byrne says people are more willing to listen if they hear about sustainable behaviour in an environment in which they already feel comfortable. That might mean reaching older people facing fuel poverty at lunch clubs or at the doctor’s surgery.

Meanwhile there is potential for change if you allow a bit of community peer pressure to build up. Who’s doing the most to live sustainably? Rob Hopkins describes the Transition Streets project Totnes:

People form groups on their streets, meet in each others’ homes and look at energy, water, food, and so on. Here in Totnes, 550 households took part, on average cutting their emissions by 1.3 tonnes per household. In the evaluation carried out afterwards, the key benefit people reported was feeling more part of the community.

Is it better to switch the heating off overnight or when you are out, or to leave it on a low level?

The message from our panelists was clear: turn it off. As Ian Byrne explains:

In simple terms, the amount of heat lost from the home to the outside world is proportional to the temperature difference between the inside and outside, so maintaining a higher internal temperature will mean greater heat losses and higher bills.

This article is part of the Guardian’s #bigenergydebate series. Click here to find out more about this project and our partners