Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Do you have cash to burn?

Switching suppliers can save you money but simple things can also help. UK Energy Saving suggests turning off the tap, lowering the thermostat by 1 and filling the kettle with only the water you need.

The Energy Saving Trust will give you a home energy check, which may save you up to £270 a year. For an online report, visit www.energysaving trust.org.uk, or call 0800 512 012 for a paper version.

High domestic fuel prices mean there's one financial certainty this winter - it's going to cost a bomb to keep warm. Shopping around for the best fuel tariff now, however, can give householders the best chance of keeping their energy costs as low as possible.

No amount of home insulation is going to protect you from high bills if you are stuck on an expensive tariff. And come January 2009, it's likely that consumers may face further price hikes from the energy companies so it will pay to plan ahead.

If your budget is already feeling the strain, consider fixing your fuel price for a few years. Capped or fixed-price tariffs work by guaranteeing your monthly or quarterly bills won't rise for a set amount of time. A key drawback, however, is that you won't benefit if prices fall during that time without pulling out of the deal and paying a penalty charge.

full article

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Heating plan attacked by charity

A charity for the elderly says it has received an increasing number of complaints about the government's Warm Front home heating scheme.

This provides money for elderly and vulnerable people to help keep their homes warm in winter.

But the charity Age Concern says it has received more than 5,000 complaints about it in the past year.

These have focused on delays, poor workmanship and the need for pensioners to make contributory payments.

The government is expected to announce extra measures on Thursday to help poor people stay warm in their homes.


The charity said the government had admitted to MPs earlier this year that funding for the scheme would be cut by a third between 2007/098 and 2010/11, to just £295m.

Meanwhile complaints it had received highlighted other inadequacies.

Among them, pensioners complained they could not afford the top-up payments that were often required, sometimes reaching £2,000, because government grants under Warm Front were limited to £2,700, regardless of the actual cost of the work.

The charity added that the experience of complainers, and others who asked for advice, was that delays to work left some people without heating or warmth in their homes, while others had to pay more for extra work due to poor workmanship.

The charity said that simply putting more money into Warm Front and CERT would not help all those who needed it.

"Wide-ranging reforms are needed to address pricing inequalities which are leaving many of the poorest households paying more for their energy than wealthier customers," said Mr Lishman.

full article

Lofty plans to keep the nation warm

As Tesco announces a surprise move into the insulation business, Miles Brignall reveals how many of the grants on offer are nothing more than hot air

The supermarket says it will reclaim the cost through the government's recently announced programme of grants to tackle fuel poverty, which now affects 5.4m homes.

However, questions are already being asked about who the real beneficiaries of the programme will be. It has been suggested that when a profit-driven company such as Tesco becomes involved, the installers may be getting more out of it than the "fuel poor". Tesco admits this is a revenue-generating exercise, though it declines to say how much it will receive for each installation.

The main problem is that, in keeping with all the other government-backed insulation schemes, Tesco will not offer the service for free where the householder already has 6cm of loft insulation in place.

The Energy Savings Trust recommends that all households have 27cm of loft insulation. Because it is now almost impossible to find UK homes with no loft insulation, many question the value of the scheme in its current form. Up to 25% of a house's heat is lost through the roof.

A 70-year-old living on state pension would have to pay Tesco £149 to top up her loft insulation if she has more than 6cm in place. And the supermarket won't install anything if your roof has 15cm of insulation - just over half the recommended amount. Also, it has been pointed out by Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged, that these measures do little to help anyone whose home was built before the 30s and does not have cavity walls. They estimate that neither measure is possible in one-third of UK homes.

Add up all these points, and Gordon Brown's claim that up to 11 million low-income households would qualify for free insulation looks distinctly unlikely.

Ever since the government introduced the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (Cert) scheme, which requires power companies to invest in improving their customers' homes, Guardian Money has been contacted by unhappy readers turned down for extra loft insulation because of the 6cm rule.

The problem has been caused by the way the Cert scheme is calculated. For every home the power companies insulate they save an amount of carbon towards their three-year target. They get three-and-a-half times as many "points" if they can insulate lofts with fewer than 6cm in place.

With shareholders to please, there's little financial incentive for the power firms to top up a pensioner's home from 7cm to 27cm.

full article

Friday, 26 September 2008

Killacycle Throttles Petrol Power

In the past, their relatively low speeds and lack of range mean electric vehicles have suffered from some less than glowing press.

But now, Iceland is trying to convince the rest of the world that the future of driving is electric, after all.

With 99% of its electricity provided by renewable energy, Reykjavik is the ideal setting for the Driving Sustainability 2008 car show.

Among the mean, green machines on display, is the fastest electric motorbike in the world.

The Killacycle has a top speed of 168mph and goes from 0-100 in a second.

For a typical run, it needs only as much energy as a hair dryer would use over 15 minutes, while its batteries recharge in just four minutes.

It is the brain child of Bill Dube, who invented the Killacycle in his garage in Colorado.

He told Sky News: "It's just a giant cordless drill with wheels, a 500 horse power cordless drill with wheels. It has a battery, motors and a throttle, just like you'd have a trigger on your drill. And there are no carbon emissions.

full article

Solar panels are new hot property for thieves

Glenda Hoffman has an answer for the thieves, should they choose to return to her home in Desert Hot Springs, California. "I have a shotgun right next to the bed and a .22 under my pillow."

Hoffman was the victim of a theft that one industry professional has dubbed "the crime of the future". Another observer has come up with the term "grand theft solar" to describe the spate of recent burglaries in sunny California.

In May Hoffman lost 16 solar panels from her roof in three separate burglaries, one while she slept below. Happily for Hoffman her insurers have agreed to pay the $95,000 (£48,000) cost of replacing the panels. But as energy prices soar, and solar power takes off - at least in California - so opportunistic thieves have turned to the lucrative, and complicated, business of dismantling solar panels.

"I wouldn't say it's pervasive, but it's going on," California Solar Energy Industries Association executive director Sue Kateley told the Valley Times.

California is the leader for solar installations, with 33,000 across the state. Unsurprisingly, it is also the market leader for thefts of solar installations, although figures are hard to come by.

full article

Energy firms condemned for 'abysmal' customer service

Gas and electricity companies have been criticised for their "abysmal" customer service, by a leading consumer watchdog.

No other industry fares so badly when it comes to billing their customers correctly, answering their calls promptly and offering value for money, according to Which?.

Insurance companies, mobile phone operators, supermarkets and even banks beat energy companies, the hard-hitting report says.

Npower, with 6.5 million customers, emerged as the worst performer from the survey of 8,600 Which? members, with the report calling the company's performance "abysmal".

The report comes just a few weeks after the leading providers raised their prices for the second time this year to take the average annul dual fuel – gas and electricity – bill to more than £1,400.

Jess Ross,editor of Which said,: "This is the first time that we've asked members about their energy suppliers and we're shocked to see the results – too many suppliers are letting customers down and charging them more and more for the privilege.

"These companies are providing essential services that people can't live without, but this isn't an excuse to offer poor value for money."

Only a quarter of households have been told by their supplier that they can save money by switching their payment methods. Paying by direct debit, rather than by cheque, can save the average customers as much as £200 a year.

Less than a third – 32 per cent – of Npower's customers were prepared to say they were "satisfied" with the service they received, with one customer Julia Macphie saying, "The customer service is a farce. Despite 30-odd phone calls, eight visits by different meter readers and several letters Npower hasn't sent me a correct bill for nearly two years."

British Gas only fared slightly better with 40 per cent of customers saying they were satisfied. The highest-rated company was Utility Warehouse, a relatively small supplier that is run as a discount club, which charges a small membership fee.

full article

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Save money with eco gadgets

A recent Mori poll revealed that just 10 per cent of those questioned last month put worries about the environment at the top of their list of concerns – a year ago, that figure was closer to 15 per cent.

Yet investing in eco-friendly gadgets can help save money as well as protect the planet, says Adam Vaughan, editor of The Green Guy, an environmental website. "Saving the planet often means saving cash, and green gadgets are a great example," he says. "Unlike most gadgets, they effectively appreciate in value as they age, since the more energy prices jump, the more money they’re saving you. Gadgets that save or generate energy may not be cheap to buy, but take a long-term view and consider the total cost of ownership. Energy-saving bulbs are the classic example. Though more expensive than old-fashioned incandescents, they’ll save you £40 or more over their lifetime."

So, with the nights drawing in, the central heating creaking into action, and pennies being watched before Christmas, we present our guide to the gadgets that could help save you money – and the planet.

1 A real turn-off
Everyone knows that one of the quickest and easiest ways to save money and energy is to switch electrical appliances off at the wall every night before going to bed.

Realistically, though, turning off a hundred different plugs is not part of most people’s nightly routine, a fact that manufacturers seem to be catching on to – Sky has updated its set-top boxes so that they automatically switch to standby when left idle for a period of time, while TVOnics’s personal video recorders also have a standby mode, as well as reduced power consumption when performing scheduled recordings.
full article

Gas and electricity bills could climb yet higher this winter

Gas and electricity bills could climb another 15 per cent, leaving customers facing bills of £1,500 this winter, a report has warned.
he increases would deal another blow to families who have already been hit with increases of 40 per cent so far this year.

The prediction, from price comparison website energyhelpline.com, comes as electricity prices on the wholesale market hit a record high.

National Grid, the company in charge of distributing electricity around the country has warned that there is less surplus electricity in the system than previously thought. Even if just one of the UK's 38 major power stations fell out of action – as often happens – it would cause serious enough shortages for factories to be forced to shut down to save energy, it said.

Britain's ageing power plants have struggled this year, with record numbers falling out of action for emergency repairs.

National Grid's grim warning caused winter electricity baseload power prices – the key benchmark used by the industry – to increase by 2 per cent percent to £105 a megawatt hour, a record level.

Escalating gas and electricity prices this year are one of the reasons why inflation has hit a 16-year high of 4.7 per cent.

The forecast came despite the Met Office predicting that this winter could be much milder than average, which would mean power stations were put under less pressure.

Alan Asher, the chief executive of energywatch the consumer watchdog, said there was little reason for fuel bills to increase, saying the energy industry too often "talked up" price rises. "I think people have just lost their patience. The public are revolting. If we see rise of any significance in the New Yea the public will take to the streets."

Electricity can't be stored, so production needs to continually meet demand. The power grid has spare plants that only run at times when demand and prices are at their highest.

full article

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Portugal embraces wave power

Suddenly a lonely spot on the Portuguese coast has become the centre of the wave power industry.

The beach at Agucadoura, just north of Porto, is where electricity from the world's first wave farm is being cabled ashore. Five kilometres out to sea a Pelamis wave machine is gently riding the Atlantic swell, generating power for the Portuguese grid.

The wave farm has just been officially launched after a frustrating delay of more than a year. "We had an issue with the underwater connections", explains engineering manager, Ross Henderson. He is sitting with me in the beachfront substation which takes in the power. "I can't believe such a small thing cost the project a whole year."

full article

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Tesco launches home insulation service

Homeowners wanting to reduce their fuel bills can now add low-cost loft and cavity wall insulation to their supermarket shopping lists after Tesco launched an energy efficiency service for customers.

The supermarket giant is offering insulation for loft or wall cavities for a flat rate of £199, although this price is subject to survey and may be higher for people in unusually large properties or those requiring additional work.

The new service is open to all homeowners, residential landlords and private tenants, and will be free to customers aged 70 or more and those on qualifying state benefits.

Council or housing association tenants wanting their home insulated are advised to put a request to their landlord and ask them to contact Tesco directly.

Tesco said it had insulated 50 homes in a trial over the summer and now hoped to insulate half a million UK homes in the next three years.

Customers can book a free survey by phone or online.

If they agree to go ahead with the work Tesco says it should be carried out within six weeks of making the initial contact. Loft insulation takes less than three hours to install while wall cavity insulation takes up to four hours.

Customers paying for the service will receive 199 Clubcard points per insulation measure on their Tesco loyalty cards.

full article

Monday, 22 September 2008

Electric Range Rover with zero emissions to be unveiled

A prototype Range Rover capable of going 200 miles on a single electric charge is to be unveiled this week.

It has been designed by a team working in Oxford and could be on sale next year.

The bill for driving an environmentally friendly Range Rover will be a hefty one, with the prices ranging from £95,000 to £125,000.

However, unlike the car's conventional equivalents, the tax bill for running the car will be minimal.

Electric cars on the market, such as the G-Wizz have a range of around 50-60 miles - but are also on sale at a fraction of the proposed price for the Liberty Electric Range Rover.

It is the latest in a series of alternative powered cars being designed by the motor industry which has come under intense pressure to reduce emissions.

The European Union has told car makers that they must bring their average CO2 output down to 130 grams per kilometre by 2012.

According to the company, this car will offer swift acceleration and a high top speed, while costing 80 per cent less to run than a petrol equivalent.

Other innovations include roof mounted solar panels, which will provide additional charge for the batteries as well as powering some of the car's electrics while it is stopped.

full article

Sunday, 21 September 2008

UK TV campaign to ‘switch off’

The UK Government has launched a major energy efficiency advertising campaign to help individuals cut usage and reduce fuel bills.

In response to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s announcement of a £1 billion assistance package for householders last week, there has been a massive surge in the number of calls to the Government’s ACT ON CO2 advice line.

According to figures from the Energy Savings Trust, who operate the advice line, calls from individuals wanting advice on energy efficiency have quadrupled since the announcement.

“I am encouraged that following last week’s announcement, people are looking to take action to cut their fuel bills and save energy at the same time. We now need to build on that enthusiasm,” says Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

“We now need to do all we can to ensure they take up this help. This advert is part of that drive,” he adds.

The TV ad campaign is supported by a redesigned ACT ON CO2 website, which contains information about energy savings measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation and allows users to search for grants and support in their area.

For further information:

full article

Friday, 19 September 2008

How to haggle your way to a good deal

Here are some top tips to help you 'pay less for more.'

1. Do your research: Research the products and outlets: scour the internet, read magazines and newspapers. Try not to set your heart on a product – the likelihood is you will find a more appropriate one in your investigation and improve on the original price.

2. List your must-haves and nice-to-haves: For example, if buying a fridge freezer, your must-haves could include; size. Is energy-efficiency important to you? What about price? Perhaps your nice-to-haves are a chilled water dispenser and a larger fridge than freezer.

3. Have three outcomes in mind:
Ideal – a great deal for you.
Good – a decent reduction and/or added value.
Acceptable – if you don't achieve this then you will walk-away and go to your next choice.

4. Speak to a decision maker. Perhaps the owner, store manager or senior salesperson, but there is no point in negotiating with the cleaner!

5. Use your prepared information to your advantage: What can you say that will help motivate the salesperson to reducing the price? For example, can you use competitive information to get you a better deal? A salesperson is motivated by selling their product rather than seeing you go to another store. The price on the internet may be £400 and in the shop £450. Say you have seen the same machine on offer for £400, but would be happy to buy now if they sell it to you for £370 including delivery.

6. Don't give away 'buying signals': Don't say that your freezer had just packed up; this is ringing hundred pound notes in front of salespeoples eyes as they know your frozen chicken is about to thaw!

7. Practice makes perfect – opportunities occur all the time – from buying your MP3 player to arranging that luxury trip away with your partner. If you make negotiating a habit, it will become instinctive and above all, save you tons of money!

full article

From mobile phone and broadband companies to credit-card providers, firms are increasingly willing to haggle with customers looking to secure discounts and cut living costs.

With a recession looming and shoppers tightening their belts, stores are bowing to pressure to negotiate discounts.

Last week, the European Commission became the latest authority to declare Britain on the brink of a recession, and the retailer John Lewis reported plunging sales as the middle classes trade down to cheaper outlets such as Lidl and Aldi.

Sunday Times readers and users of online consumer forums boast they are saving hundreds of pounds a year on mobile phone and broadband contracts — simply by asking.

full article

Energy Efficiency is the only way to reduce Fuel Bills

As news emerges that more people than ever before will face increased financial pressures in the wake of rising fuel bills, the call for household energy efficiency measures have never been greater.

With an average energy bill set to climb to £1406 in 2009 (from £676 in 2005), the Government has given a commitment to help consumers improve household energy efficiency and permanently bring down energy bills.

As the nation waits for confirmation of where Government support will be given, many organisations are offering advice and guidance into where and how families can make changes that will cut their household energy costs.

Figures from the Energy Savings Trust suggest that if everyone undertook a number of simple measures including: Fitting energy saving light bulbs, double glazed windows, installing a condensing boiler, cavity wall and loft insulation and jackets for hot water tanks, UK households could reduce energy bills by over £270 a year and save over £1.9bn in fuel costs*.

“But making energy efficient changes, ahead of the winter months, could lead to savings of thousand’s of pound on future fuel bills - as well as adding to a house’s value. If people are considering making improvements we would urge them to look at the most energy efficient options.

Further estimations on savings to be gained from implementing energy efficiency measures in the home include*:
• Around a third of all the heat lost in an un-insulated home is lost through the walls. Fitting cavity wall insulation could save up to £120 on an annual fuel bill
• Insulating an uninsulated loft can save around £155 a year If everyone in the UK topped up their loft insulation to 270mm, around £560m would be saved each year. That's enough money to pay the annual fuel bills of around 530,000 families.
• An ultra efficient condensing boiler will be 20% more efficient and could save up to £130 on heating bills.
• Fitting an insulating jacket to the hot water cylinder could save around £30 per year
• Setting hot water cylinder thermostats to 60°C/140°F could save up to £10 over the year
• Using low energy light bulbs to save £10 on electricity bills each year.
• By installing draught proofing you could save around £25 a year on your heating bills

Financial help may be available if you're planning to make energy saving improvements to your home. Visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk for more information.

full article

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Scientists claim they will grow tree-homes in a decade

Humans may one day be returning to the forests to live in ecological homes grown from tree roots.

Scientists from the U.S and Israel have proposed building the ingenious 'tree-homes' in cities and towns as a way of saving the planet.

Using the advanced techniques of aeroponics, the green-fingered researchers are confident the first prototype home could be ready in just ten years.

Aeroponics is the science of growing plants in an air or mist environment - without soil. Some plants, such as orchids that grow on trees in tropical rainforests, grow this way naturally.

Plantware, the organisation behind the technology, said it has already enjoyed success creating bus-shelters, park benches and traffic lights using its unique growing techniques.

Each home would be constructed from actual tree roots to any design specification and come equipped with a host of eco-friendly features such as solar panels and wind-harvesting fans.

full article

Thermostat Regulation 'Cuts Bills by 10%'

Turning home thermostats down by one degree Celsius cuts heating bills by ten percent, new analysis from the Energy Saving Trust has suggested.

The campaigners also said today that keeping tabs on hot water in the home is one of the key ways in maximising energy efficiency - and that proper regulation can lead to £300 of annual savings for the average household. If all UK homes followed the advice, the body claimed, a total of £962 million would be saved.

By way of comparison, this figure is larger than the government's entire recently-announced national autumn energy plan, for which £910 million will be spent. The scheme, unveiled earlier this month by Gordon Brown, includes a 50 percent discount on home insulation installation in UK homes.

Paula Owen, energy doctor at Energy Saving Trust, said: "You only need to heat main living areas to around 18 to 21 degrees Celsius - although it may need to be higher if there are young children, elderly or frail people in the house."

She added: "Check your hot water tank thermostat isn’t set too high, or it will be wasting money. It only needs to be at 60 degrees Celsius."

full article

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Wind farms fail to deliver value for money, report claims

Excessive subsidies make them an expensive and inefficient way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a study by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) think-tank says.

The report comes amid mounting disquiet over the number of wind farms planned for Britain.

Energy companies want to erect more than 3,000 turbines over the next five years, leading to fears that hundreds of acres of rural landscape will be blighted.

Critics insist that wind energy is too inefficient to replace the creaking network of fossil fuel power stations. Even with modern turbines, wind farms are unable to operate at full capacity because of the unreliable nature of Britain's wind.

The industry admits that for up to 30 per cent of the time, turbines are idle because wind speeds are either too low to turn the blades, or too high, risking damage to the machines.

Without any suitable method of storing the excess power produced when winds are blowing but electricity use is low, many turbines also have to be turned off for fear of overloading the grid.

The report says that wind farms are unprofitable and rely on hefty subsidies that ultimately come from consumers in the form of rising energy prices. This cost comes on top of increases in gas and electricity prices caused by the high price of oil. They risk leaving the poorest members of society struggling to heat their homes.

full article

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Energy giants still up to ‘dirty tricks’

The government was last week accused of letting energy giants off the hook on a series of rip-offs from inaccurate billing to punitive rates if customers pay by cheque.

Gordon Brown, the prime minister, unveiled a £910m package including free cavity-wall and loft insulation for low-income households and pensioners and 50% discounts for everyone else.

However, energy giants continue to engage in “dirty tricks” that can cost consumers hundreds of pounds a year, wiping out the benefit of the government’s energy-efficiency measures.

Over this weekend, German-owned Eon has stopped allowing customers to switch to its cheapest deal, the Extra Saver Version 8 tariff at £903 a year, through comparison sites in an effort to restrict the number of customers getting the tariff.

Critics also said that consumers will ultimately pay the cost of the government’s package. More than half the new money in the fuel plan — £560m — will be raised from suppliers to expand the Carbon Efficiency Reduction Target which obliges them to set aside money for improving energy efficiency in homes.

Energy companies pass on the costs, adding about £38 a year to bills — up £29 from last year. Although the government has said it does not “expect” the extra allocation to be passed on, there is no guarantee. Mark Todd of comparison firm Energyhelpline said: “It would have been better for customers if the extra cash was passed directly on to customers who need it.”

full article

Are these fixed-rate deals a bright idea?

To fix or not to fix, that is the question. As consumers reel from the latest round of energy bill increases, suppliers are encouraging us to sign up to fixed-rate deals. But with fixed tariffs priced at about 20 per cent more than online tariffs, is fixing the best way forward?

Last month npower and ScottishPower became the last of the big six energy suppliers to raise prices this summer - meaning that households are now facing average annual bills of almost £1,500, a rise of about 40 per cent since last year. Energy companies blame the latest rises on “massive increases in wholesale costs”.

Customers are now being encouraged to fix their prices for the next 12 months, or more, to safeguard against further price rises. British Gas is widely promoting its fixed-price tariff, which fixes your bills until 2011. ScottishPower, EDF Energy and E.ON are offering deals fixed until late next year. While these tariffs will provide consumers with greater peace of mind, you will pay a premium to be on such deals.

For example, Moneysupermarket.com, the comparison website, says that the most competitive British Gas tariff, the online deal Click Energy 5, costs an average of £845 a year, but its fixed-rate tariff would cost the same user £1,240 a year - a hefty £395 more. ScottishPower's online tariff costs £1,141 a year, but the same user would pay £1,213 on a fixed deal - £72 more.

Ann Robinson, of uSwitch.com, another comparison website, says: “It is a difficult one to weigh up. People should be cautious about fixing now, as this round of price rises has finished and prices are unlikely to rise again until February or March. If your fixed deal expires next year, you could benefit from a lower rate for only a few months.”

It is also worth noting that fixed tariffs come with a termination fee of between £50 and £100 if you want to quit the deal early. This does not apply if you are moving house, as you should be able to transfer the tariff to your new address.

“But consumers who are looking for the cheapest deal now should opt for the best online tariff. Not only will this be cheaper than fixed tariffs, it means that you can continue to shop around for the best deal and not be tied in to a long-term contract. With online deals, you input all the meter readings yourself, which means that you should receive more accurate bills and not be overcharged.”
full article

Friday, 12 September 2008

Home owners have been lagging their lofts in record numbers

Home owners have been lagging their lofts in record numbers in recent weeks in an attempt to cut down on escalating fuel bills, according trading figures.
There has been a 40 per cent jump in the amount of loft insulation sold between June and August

DIY shops and builders' merchants report that they have sold record amounts of insulation products to consumers concerned about their heating bills this winter.

According to GfK, a leading market research firm that monitors retailers' trading, there has been a 40 per cent jump in the amount of loft insulation sold between June and August, compared to the same period last year.

Daniel Fearnley, at GfK, said the scale of the sales boom was surprising considering the DIY market had been hit hard by the housing market slump. Sales of most home improvement products have fallen by at least 10 per cent in the same period.

However, with the average annual gas and electricity bill shooting up from £970 to more than £1,400 since the start of the year, many consumers have taken action to limit their costs.

Jeremy Bird, managing director of Wickes, which sells building products to tradesmen as well as DIY enthusiasts, said: "There's been so much talk about energy bills, and lagging your loft has always been one of the best ways to save money.

"The pay back is pretty quick for a customer, especially if they are prepared to install it themselves. It's a pretty hot and messy job, but one worth doing."

According to the Energy Savings Trust, the installing loft insulation yourself costs £250 on average, but should save a medium-sized household £155 a year on their gas bills, or even more, considering gas bills continue to rise.

Mr Bird said that his company had seen a strong pick-up in customer numbers over the summer – not from builders, many of whom can not find work because of the housing slump – but from DIY customers.

Paula Owen, at the Energy Saving Trust said: "If your loft is un-insulated, about 15 per cent of what you're paying for your heating could be escaping through your roof.

"If everybody in the UK who could install 270mm of loft insulation – nearly a foot's worth of lagging – we would save £556 million each year."

full article

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Energy efficient households 'can save £270 a year'

The average home can save £270 a year by being energy efficient, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

The organisation offers these tips to help people cope with rising energy prices.

* Look for cavities - around 33% of the heat lost in an uninsulated home is through the walls, so insulating them can be one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy in the home. Not all buildings are suitable, but if a house was built between the 1920s and 1980s it could be a candidate for cavity wall insulation, saving up to £120 on annual heating bills.

In a house built before the 1920s, with solid wall construction, and if repairs are needed to walls or rooms, a householder could instal internal or external wall insulation, saving around £380 a year on heating bills.

* Have the boiler checked regularly. If it is not broken, it still might need fixing. Boilers usually break down in winter so it is essential to check it in the summer. If the boiler is more than 15 years old, it is probably time it was replaced with a new energy efficient one. High efficiency condensing boilers are the most energy efficient and will save around a third on heating bills straight away, and even more if upgraded to modern controls.

* Fridge freezers are the most hardworking appliances in kitchens - UK households use £1.8 billion worth of electricity on refrigeration and freezing alone every year. To help cut costs, do not leave the door open longer than necessary, as cold air will escape. Avoid putting hot food into the fridge, defrost the freezer regularly and check the door seals are working properly.

* Look out for the energy saving recommended logo when buying new electrical appliances. The logo appears on a growing range of products - from light bulbs to laundry appliances, indicating the most energy efficient appliances which are also cheaper to run. Replacing an old, energy inefficient fridge-freezer with a new energy saving recommended one could save up to £34 a year.

* An insulating jacket for hot water tanks costs only a few pounds and pays for itself within months. Fit one that is at least 75mm (3") thick to save around £30 a year. If every UK household fitted a jacket on their tank tomorrow, that would save around £130 million of energy every year.

* Close the curtains at dusk. That stops heat escaping through windows.

* Buy energy efficient light bulbs. Priced from just £2.00, energy efficient light bulbs last around 10 times longer.

* Double glazing cuts heat loss through windows by 50% and could cut heating bills by up to £110 a year.

* Loft insulation keeps the heat in a house. If a loft is uninsulated, about 15% of what a household is paying for heating could be escaping through the roof.

full article

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Domestic Energy Bills: Help At Hand

As the Government warns there will be no handouts for those struggling to cope with soaring fuel bills, National Energy Action offers tips on where to turn for help.

Is there any help available?

Yes. The key is knowing where to look and to phone around.

What is the first step?

The best thing to do is to phone the free Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.

They have experts who can give you advice on grants and how to save money on your heating bills by making your home more energy efficient.

If you are worried about a relative or friend, perhaps someone who is elderly or vulnerable, it’s not a problem – you can call for yourself or on behalf of someone else you are concerned about. This line is open 9am–8pm Monday to Friday and 9am–3pm on Saturdays.

The Citizens Advice Bureau is very good for people who are worried about debt problems.

You should also contact your local council and see what help they can offer. Many local authorities offer grants for insulation and energy efficiency measures.

Does Nea recommend that customers contact their supplier to let them know their concerns?

Yes this is one of the first things you should do. A lot of people who are struggling to pay their bills are not paying the cheapest price for their energy.

This is because they don’t have access to the internet or bank accounts so can’t access the cheaper online or direct debit deals. Suppliers may be able to put you onto a more favourable tariff or give you a cash rebate.

They also offer discounted or free cavity wall and loft insulation and other energy efficiency measures to their customers which could help to reduce your bills by 30%.

All suppliers in theory offer some sort of social assistance to customers. Unfortunately the eligibility criteria vary so it’s not always easy to see what’s available. The best thing is to phone them up and see what they're offering.

Are there any Government-assisted programmes that can help?

Warm front is a great scheme for people on benefit.

It gives you a benefit check to see if you can increase your income. And, if you are eligible, it will give you grants for insulation and heating systems.

What about options for long-term energy-saving plans?

Energy saving Trust(0800 512 012) is geared more towards the able-to-pay customer who wants to invest in order to save.

Is it possible to compare deals offered by different suppliers?

You can look at websites like Energywatch and Uswitch. You type in your details and they will give a basic price comparison.

Is it easy for anyone to switch companies?

Every day about 1000 people are pushed onto prepayment meters because of debt and are then effectively barred from switching suppliers.

The problem is that the prices on a prepayment meter are a lot higher - on average £203 a year higher than the cheapest available deal.

So ironically we have a situation where the people who are least able to pay are the ones paying the most for their energy.

full article

Saturday, 6 September 2008

It pays to stay online as web-only tariffs prove the cheapest option ... but for how long?

Customers who pay quarterly could save money by switching to a little-known and relatively small energy supplier, Ebico - Britain's only not-for-profit power company. Ebico is currently appearing as the second-cheapest provider, with the average household paying £962 a year in bills, and could suit consumers who don't want to stay with giant utilities firms.

Ebico uses Scottish and Southern as its supplier but works on the premise that every customer pays the same rate, regardless of whether they pay by direct debit, prepayment or quarterly.

'Other companies give direct-debit customers discounts, but we try to give everyone discounts,' says Phil Levermore, managing director of Ebico. 'Even if energy prices are rising, we will still treat customers in a fair way.'

Since other providers have pushed their prices up, Ebico has shot up the best-buy tables, according to Todd - but that too might not be for long.

'Scottish and Southern Energy is expected to be one of the last companies to raise prices, and while Ebico is a good company, they too will be raising prices later this year,' he says.

Levermore adds: 'With retail prices heading upwards, it's quite likely our prices will be rising too. That said, we're the only not-for-profit energy company and we believe in offering the fairest deal in the market.'

full article

Social housing body calls for end to 'unfair' fuel prepayment meters

Low-income families struggling to pay soaring fuel bills will stay in the spotlight this week as charities and industry bodies demand that the government stop energy companies from charging some of their poorest customers high premiums.

Following the double-digit energy price rises at Eon and Scottish and Southern (S&S), the National Housing Federation - which represents 1,300 non-profit housing associations - will launch its Energy Action Week tomorrow. It wants housing associations to pressure their MPs to take action against higher tariffs for electricity and gas prepayment meters.

Customers using these meters typically pay £150 more a year than those paying by direct debit, and around £60 more than those who pay quarterly by cash or cheque, its research shows. Prepayment-meter customers use a key, card or tokens, which can be topped up in local shops, as opposed to 'standard' customers who pay by cash or cheque on receipt of their bill. Monthly direct debit customers pay their bill in equal installments over 12 months.

These tariffs are unfair and penalise impoverished families, claims the federation, which has conducted research showing that the average income of prepayment customers is £16,000.

'A quarter of prepayment customers are "fuel poor", which means they spend over 10 per cent of their household income on gas and electricity, and this burden is only increased by the high tariffs forced on them by prepayment meters,' says John Pierce at the NHF. 'We are not opposed to prepayment meters as housing association tenants can sometimes struggle to pay large quarterly bills and the meters give them the chance to budget carefully. But it is unfair that they are overcharged when they are already struggling with a low income.'

Economy tips

· Try to switch from prepayment to cheaper standard or monthly direct-debit payments.

· If you can, change suppliers to find a cheaper tariff that suits your energy consumption.

· If you're in debt to your current supplier, you might still be able to switch if it does not exceed £100. You will then owe the money to the new supplier.

· You may be eligible for benefits and grants such as the Warm Front Programme, which can help you pay for fuel. See energywatch.org.uk.

· Most companies now offer a social tariff if you receive certain benefits. Your supplier will be able to give you more information.

· If you are struggling to pay off a debt to an energy company, contact Citizens Advice for help.

full article

Smart Way To Slash Energy Bills

A new energy company launches on Monday with the promise to revolutionise the industry and help you with your gas and electric bills.

First Utility is to install smart meters - the next generation of electricity and gas meters that read energy usage every 30 minutes.

It hopes to compete with the Big Six energy companies by letting homeowners see where they are spending their cash.

Mark Daeche, the co-founder of First Utility, told Sky News Online: "Trials have show that you can save up to 15% on your electric bill.

"We are from a background of telecoms. We are bringing the strengths of the telecoms industry to energy. We are bringing smart billing, we are accurate and on time. These are things that the big six just don't do."

He accused the Big Six of operating a cartel - something they deny.

"There is no transparency. They are vertically integrated which means the generator is selling to the supplier. It needs to be broken," he added.

"We need to have a liquid wholesale market where we can go and purchase then it's clear to everyone what the prices are."

So how does the smart meter work?

It is a box fitted to a wall in your home, telling consumers and suppliers how much energy is being used at any given moment.

The information can be sent to our televisions, mobile phones or PCs. It could eventually be broken down by appliance - so letting you see, for example, how much electricity your kettle is using.

First Utility promises a three way tariff with a cheaper rate.

"We will be offering 9p/kilowat compared to the 14p/kilowat that some other firms charge," added Mr Daeche.

full article

The green kitchen

For the purposes of this week’s column, the kitchen shall embrace the tumble dryer – even if the dryer is in a different room. And it will get a shock. The most efficient tumble dryers, according to figures published by the sustainability group Market Transformation Programme (www.mtprog.com), use electricity at a rate of 2.3-2.5kWh for 4.5kg of laundry (the smallest load its studies measure). The least efficient use 80-90 per cent more.

The environmental and financial cost is enormous. Karen Lawrence from the Energy Saving Trust (www.est.org.uk) says that we spend £400 million a year on drying laundry, producing eight million tonnes of CO2 and using enough electricity “to power almost all the homes in Greater Manchester for a year”.

What can you do? Well, you can buy a more efficient tumble dryer. But more sparing use of it is an even better option. And yes, the alternative to tumbling is air drying, but I wager that you will be converted once you’ve got the hang of it (no pun intended). Watch this space for detailed advice on air drying.

In the meantime, here are some intermediate steps to more environmentally responsible drying. One: make sure that your laundry has spun at at least 1400rpm in the washing machine. This cuts the water content by around 20 per cent over 1000rpm, thus cutting time in the dryer. Two: buy a folding clothes rack and put it next to the dryer. Tumble dry the load for 20 minutes, then let it finish drying on the rack. This is better for clothing, causing less mechanical and thermal stress on the fabric.

And three: never, ever tumble dry items like tea towels and napkins. You can buy small, wall-mounted racks that will accommodate them. Once they’re back in the Green Kitchen, you’ll never know they haven’t seen the inside of your dryer.

full article

Friday, 5 September 2008

When the wind doesn't blow

By 2020, more than a third of Britain's electricity will be generated by wind power, according to government plans. One problem - six out of 10 days aren't windy enough to make sufficient power. So what happens then?

On a clear summer's day the Horns Rev wind farm off the coast of Denmark could almost double as a tourist attraction. Watching the rows of 200 foot white steel turbines turning gently in the wind, occasionally catching the afternoon sun is beautiful, almost hypnotic.

To see it properly you need a helicopter, as it's in the middle of the North Sea. I had hitched a ride with Bent Johansen, who manages the operations of Danish turbines for the energy company, Vattenfall. For him the future of wind is off-shore.

"Horns Rev can produce as much power as all our 300 onshore turbines put together," says Mr Johansen.

Horns Rev is currently the biggest off-shore wind farm in the world, covering an area of over 20km. In the next decade Britain will be seeing its own versions of Horns Rev cropping up off the coastline.

The government estimates about 35% of electricity will need to be generated from wind power by 2020, to meet an EU target. This will mean a massive increase in the amount of wind power generated, from 2% at present to 35%.

It's a big leap, admits Maria McCaffery of the British Wind Energy Association, "but we believe it is possible".

Denmark is the poster boy for wind power - 20% of the electricity it generates comes from wind, it claims. Horns Rev can provide enough power for 150,000 homes. On the day I visited it would be lucky to power a village. So what does Denmark do when the wind doesn't blow?

The answer is on the giant screens which dominate the control room of Energinet, the Danish national grid. Peter Jorgensen, the vice president of Energinet, directs me to the map of Scandinavia which fills one vast screen. On it are the unique energy connections Denmark has to its neighbours in Norway, Sweden and Germany.

This allows them to import power when it's not windy or export it when they have too much.

full article

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Energy Saving Advice: How to Save £27K

Making a few small, simple changes could save you a massive £27K, and help the environment.

The average UK household can save over £27,000 throughout the course of a lifetime and decrease their carbon footprint by making small, everyday changes to the way energy is used in the home, according to a new report by ASDA.

And these changes could have a significant impact on the environment, saving 209 tonnes of Co2 during a lifetime, the equivalent to travelling 115,000 miles by car.

Energy Saving Tips: Small Changes to Save Energy and Cash

The report found that substantial savings can be made throughout a lifetime by taking simple actions.

Turning the heating down by just 1 degree can save a household almost £6,000 and not heating the house when it’s empty can save a further £4,500.

Also, just by not leaving appliances on standby, each home can save over £2,000 during a lifetime – if all households in the UK did this then it would save enough electricity to power 1.2 million homes every single year.

Pennies can also be saved every time a cup of tea is made, simply by using just the right amount of water in the kettle.

Changing 10 light bulbs to energy saving options could save a household £50 a year.

How Much Energy Will Simple Changes Save?

• Turning off lights when not needed saves £806 and 2,923 C02 Kg over a lifetime.

• Not leaving appliances on standby saves £2,296 and 8,323 C02 Kg

• Using the right amount of water in the kettle saves £560 and 2,030 Kg

• Not heating rooms when not using them saves £3,675 and 60,900 Kg

• Not heating the house when not in it saves £4,533 and 75,110 Kg

• Turning the heating down by 1 degree saves £5,779 and 25,814 Kg

• Using energy saving light bulbs saves £381 and 1,380 Kg

• Using efficient appliances saves £6,944 and 25,172 Kg

• Turning off mobile phone chargers save £426 and 1,543 Kg

• Having showers instead of baths saves £1,680 and 6,090 Kg

• TOTAL SAVINGS: £27,080 and 209,285 C02 Kg over the course of a lifetime

full article

Post price hikes best value energy providers revealed 3 September 2008

Following the second round of devastating price hikes from all big six energy giants this year, moneysupermarket.com reveals Brits could save as much as 63 per cent on their energy bills by moving to the cheapest available product. Meaning a staggering saving of £5.84 billion for UK consumers.

Research from the price comparison site shows the online dual fuel deal from British Gas - Click Energy 5 - is the best value tariff across all 14 UK regions. Those in the East of England would pay the least at £824 a year. However, they would be paying £1,377 - £553 or 67 per cent more - if they stayed on their incumbent providers standard tariff paying by quarterly cash or cheque. Customers worst affected, following the recent price hikes, are those in the North East who are facing annual bills in excess of £1396. By moving to the cheapest online deal available they could save around £531 per year.

On average across the UK, households could save £531 a year if they moved away from their region's incumbent provider's standard tariff and opted for the best value tariff available. If all customers who are yet to change energy tariff moved to the best possible deal, the country would save £5.84 billion on its energy bills.

Brits have suffered massive increases this summer, with the cost of gas going up 29 per cent on average and electricity seeing an average increase of 14 per cent. Since the beginning of the year consumers have faced an overall increases of 52 and 28 per cent respectively.

Scott Byrom, utilities manager at moneysupermarket.com, said: "Households have been dealt with an almighty blow this summer with all six energy giants hiking their prices for the second time this year. It's more important than ever for Brits not to be lulled into thinking they will automatically get the best deal with their current provider. I urge customers to proactively check the market to ensure they find the tariff that most suits their circumstances. Online products continue to lead the way in terms of value with monthly direct debit payments offering the highest level of customer discounts.

"However, it's important to note that online products are likely to increase in price over the coming weeks as providers jostle for top position. As a result, consumers should keep a watchful eye on the market to ensure they get the right deal.

full article

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Climate 'hockey stick' is revived

A new study by climate scientists behind the controversial 1998 "hockey stick" graph suggests their earlier analysis was broadly correct.

Michael Mann's team analysed data for the last 2,000 years, and concluded that Northern Hemisphere temperatures now are "anomalously warm".

Different analytical methods give the same result, they report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 1998 hockey stick was a totem of debates over man-made global warming.

The graph - indicating that Northern Hemisphere temperatures had been roughly constant for 1,000 years (the "shaft" of the stick) before turning abruptly upwards in the industrial age - featured prominently in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2001 assessment.

But some academics questioned its methodology and conclusions, and increasingly strident condemnations reverberated around the blogosphere.

One US politician demanded to see financial and research records from the scientists involved.

However, a 2006 report from the National Research Council (NRC), commissioned by the US Congress, broadly endorsed its conclusion that Northern Hemisphere temperatures in the late 20th Century were probably warmer than at any time in the previous 400 years, and perhaps at any time during the previous 1,000 years.

full article