Saturday, 27 October 2012

Energy tariff cashback deals could be targeted as Ofgem cracks down


Ofgem is to look at how introductory offers like cashback are marketed on price comparison websites.

Sources at the regulator have told This Is Money they are unhappy with industry practices that involve creating headline-grabbing discounts of several hundred pounds to encourage consumers to switch supplier, but which energy companies offer for only a limited quota to sign up a small number of customers with the remainder given more expensive deals.

The regulator takes over the voluntary code of practice for price comparison companies in January. Currently 12 switching companies are accredited, which means they have agreed to independent audit, can display a Confidence Code logo on their website and adhere to a set of rules for how prices are displayed.

The regulator has already announced plans to remove complexity from tariffs. It wants customers to be able to say what their tariff price for gas and electricity is. Currently even Phil Bentley, managing director of British Gas is unable to do this. He told MPs on the Energy Select Committee that he would struggle to answer if asked what he paid for his gas and electricity.

Once the tariff price that customers pay for their dual fuel – whether it be their electricity, green fuel or other type - becomes the currency that is talked about, Ofgem’s idea is that price competition on default, standard tariffs will be more effective.

More customers will have the confidence to switch to these standard, widely available lowest tariffs, or energy companies might even be forced to move consumers onto lowest tariffs by legislation.

full article

Friday, 5 October 2012

Electric cars 'pose environmental threat'


Electric cars might pollute much more than petrol or diesel-powered cars, according to new research.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology study found greenhouse gas emissions rose dramatically if coal was used to produce the electricity.

Electric car factories also emitted more toxic waste than conventional car factories, their report in the Journal of Industrial Energy said.

A battery electric vehicle, with electricity produced by the power generation mix we currently have in Europe, compares favourably in the magnitude of 10% or so with diesel”

Dieter Zetsche Chief executive, Daimler

With electric car production being so damaging to the environment, these cars have already polluted a great deal by the time they hit the road, the report says.

However, if the cars were then powered by electricity made from low-carbon electricity sources, they could nevertheless offer "the potential for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to tailpipe emissions" over time.

However, in regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may even cause more harm, the report said.

"Electric vehicles powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in their global warming potential relative to conventional diesel or petrol vehicles."

This is in line with calculations made by some carmakers.
Drax Cars powered by electricity produced in coal power stations pollute more than petrol or diesel cars

"According to our results, a battery electric vehicle, with electricity produced by the power generation mix we currently have in Europe, compares favourably in the magnitude of 10% or so with diesel," Daimler's chief executive Dieter Zetsche told the BBC.

Longer lives

The report pointed out that the longer an electric car in Europe stays mobile, the greater its "lead" over petrol and diesel engines.

"Assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000km exaggerates the global warming benefits of electric vehicles to 27-29% relative to petrol and 17-20% relative to diesel," it said.

"An assumption of 100,000km decreases the benefit of electric vehicles to 9-14% with respect to petrol vehicles and results in impacts indistinguishable from those of a diesel vehicle."

An electric car's longevity depends a great deal on how long its battery lasts, not least since it is very expensive to replace them.

Batteries are gradually getting better, which could result in electric cars being used for longer.

However, as petrol and diesel engines are also improving, the relationships between the different types of vehicles are not constant.

"A more significant reduction in global warming could potentially be achieved by increasing fuel efficiency or shifting from petrol to diesel," the report said.

"If you are considering purchasing an electric vehicle for its environmental benefits, first check your electricity source and second look closely at the warranty on the batteries," said Professor Stromman.

Those in power, meanwhile, should recognise "the many potential advantages of electric vehicles [which] should serve as a motivation for cleaning up regional electricity mixes".

full article

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Liquid air 'offers energy storage hope'


Turning air into liquid may offer a solution to one of the great challenges in engineering - how to store energy.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers says liquid air can compete with batteries and hydrogen to store excess energy generated from renewables.

IMechE says "wrong-time" electricity generated by wind farms at night can be used to chill air to a cryogenic state at a distant location.

When demand increases, the air can be warmed to drive a turbine.

Engineers say the process to produce "right-time" electricity can achieve an efficiency of up to 70%.

IMechE is holding a conference today to discuss new ideas on how using "cryo-power" can benefit the low-carbon economy.

The technology was originally developed by Peter Dearman, a garage inventor in Hertfordshire, to power vehicles.

A new firm, Highview Power Storage, was created to transfer Mr Dearman's technology to a system that can store energy to be used on the power grid.

The process, part-funded by the government, has now been trialled for two years at the back of a power station in Slough, Buckinghamshire.

IMechE says the simplicity and elegance of the Highview process is appealing, especially as it addresses not just the problem of storage but also the separate problem of waste industrial heat.

The process follows a number of stages:

"Wrong-time electricity" is used to take in air, remove the CO2 and water vapour (these would freeze otherwise)
the remaining air, mostly nitrogen, is chilled to -190C (-310F) and turns to liquid (changing the state of the air from gas to liquid is what stores the energy)
the liquid air is held in a giant vacuum flask until it is needed
when demand for power rises, the liquid is warmed to ambient temperature. As it vaporizes, it drives a turbine to produce electricity - no combustion is involved

IMechE says this process is only 25% efficient but it is massively improved by co-siting the cryo-generator next to an industrial plant or power station producing low-grade heat that is currently vented and being released into the atmosphere.

The heat can be used to boost the thermal expansion of the liquid air.

More energy is saved by taking the waste cool air when the air has finished chilling, and passing it through three tanks containing gravel.

The chilled gravel stores the coolness until it is needed to restart the air-chilling process.
Delivering durability

Highview believes that, produced at scale, their kits could be up to 70% efficient, and IMechE agrees this figure is realistic.

"Batteries can get 80% efficiency so this isn't as good in that respect," explains Dr Fox.

"But we do not have a battery industry in the UK and we do have plenty of respected engineers to produce a technology like this.

"What's more, it uses standard industrial components - which reduces commercial risk; it will last for decades and it can be fixed with a spanner."

In the future, it is expected that batteries currently used in electric cars may play a part in household energy storage.

But Richard Smith, head of energy strategy for National Grid, told BBC News that other sorts of storage would be increasingly important in coming decades and should be incentivised to commercial scale by government.

He said: "Storage is one of four tools we have to balance supply and demand, including thermal flexing (switching on and off gas-fired power stations); interconnections, and demand-side management. Ultimately it will be down to economics."

full article

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Should You Fix Your Energy Bills Now?



If you’ve never switched supplier before then you could save nearly £300 off your annual bill by switching gas and electricity provider, based on figures quoted across energy comparison sites.

However, if you’ve already switched then the savings are likely to be much smaller, maybe £50 a year, and often dependent on when you switch and how you pay your bill.

You can slash money off your bill by switching to an online tariff and paying by direct debit.

If you choose a fixed tariff then the cost of your energy will be locked in for a period of time, usually a year but sometimes two, before you can leave without paying a penalty.

Some experts think that households should always be looking at fixed price deals. Mark Todd, from Energyhelpline, said: The risk of a price rise is always a great prompt for people to fix. Where the difference is small and there is no cancellation fee, or a low cost to exit the tariff, then I would suggest that people always go for a fixed tariff.’

Scott Byrom, energy expert at MoneySupermarket.com said; ‘With a lot of uncertainty over the movement of energy prices I recommend getting on to good value fixed price energy product to safeguard from any increases to the cost of gas and electricity over the term of the deal.'

But if customers want to leave during this period then they are likely to have to pay a termination fee and this may cancel out any benefit of fixing in the first place.

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, says: ‘It’s important that consumers ensure that they sign up to the best deal for them and that they make sure they know about any exit fees before they sign on the dotted line.’

Deciding whether a fixed tariff is suitable for you is dependent on prices – if bills start to fall then you could end up paying more.

What is happening to prices?

In the past month, two of the big six energy suppliers, British Gas and E.ON have reported that their profits had risen by nearly a quarter in the first six months of the year.

The news does nothing to help their financially squeezed customers who have seen energy bills more than double in the last ten years.

Meanwhile wholesale prices have been falling and this has put pressure on energy firms to follow with price cuts.

full article

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Centrica defends 23pc leap in British Gas energy profits


Centrica defended a 23pc surge in profits at its British Gas household division, insisting the jump was due to the comparison with a “weak” 2011.

Chief executive Sam Laidlaw refused to bow to demands to cut energy prices - amid analyst predictions that Centrica was likely to increase its consumer tariffs.

Operating profits in the British Gas division rose to £345m in the six months to the end of June. The rise contributed to a 15pc increase in group profits, to £1.45bn for the period.

Ann Robinson, at uSwitch.com, said: “These soaring profits show that British Gas could and should cut its prices ahead of winter.”

Mr Laidlaw insisted the criticism was “purely because people have landed on a comparison with a prior year that was particularly weak”.
Profits had been low in the first half of 2011 due to an unusually warm winter, and gas consumption had increased again this year, Centrica said.

But gas consumption increased just 3.5pc, with the vast majority of a 21pc leap in gas supply revenues in fact due to increased prices.

Centrica said the bill rises has been needed to cover rising costs of commodities, increased social and environmental levies that it collects for the Government, and higher energy transmission costs, set by the regulator.

Mr Laidlaw said “nobody” he had spoken to felt its British Gas operating margins of 7.2pc - up from 6.9pc in 2011 - were unreasonable.

He added: “Because British Gas residential has got 16m customer accounts, the residential figure is a lot of money. But our profits equate to £3.50 a month per account before tax.”

Profits in British Gas’s business supply division slumped 27pc to £93m, as customer numbers fell. Centrica said this was due to some of the business customers going bust, and some switching supplier.

full article

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Great diesel myth


Diesel cars’ reputation for saving drivers money has been shattered by research showing they are often more expensive than petrol models.

It concludes that ‘diesels are no longer the default option for frugal motoring’.

While diesel engines may deliver more miles per gallon, it can take up to 14 years before they save the average driver any money.

This is because of the higher cost of diesel cars and of the fuel, which can be almost 6p a litre more expensive than unleaded petrol.

A report today by the consumer watchdog Which? says: ‘With drivers having to pay a premium for a diesel car – typically £1,000 to £2,000 more on a new car – our tests reveal it could take up to 14 years to recoup the up-front costs in fuel savings.

‘Lower pump prices for petrol and advances in petrol-engine efficiency mean petrol cars now often provide better value for money.’

Ironically, the findings come as diesels make up more than half of the new car market for the first time.

Which? compared similar-spec petrol and diesel versions of six popular cars – the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Tiguan, VW Sharan, BMW 5 Series and Peugeot 308 SW.

It calculated the annual fuel bill for each based on an average mileage of 10,672, and concluded: ‘In four out of our six examples, the petrol engine was the best choice for a driver covering 10,000 miles a year.

The report says diesels have become more refined than in the past, but ‘with petrol now around 5.5p a litre cheaper, and some makers offering super-economical petrol engines, it’s getting harder to justify the price premium’.

It adds: ‘Not only have we moved on from the bad old days of clattery diesels, but we’ve also moved on from diesels being the default option for frugal motoring.’

In the year to May 2012 diesel cars accounted for 51 per cent of new car sales, with petrol models at 47.5 per cent. Alternative fuel cars accounted for 1.5 per cent.

full article

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Solar Panel Calculator


The big winner for those paying to have solar panels installed is not thesavings on their electricity bills from generating green electricity to use, but the income derived from subsidies under the Feed-in Tariff scheme.

Through this they get paid for every unit that they generate whether they use it or export it to the grid.

The subsidy is currently paid at two rates, the Generation Tariff, of 21p per KWh (Kilowatt Hour) for all energy generated, topped up with the Export Tariff, which adds an extra 3.1p per kWh for electricity exported to the grid.

That return is tax-free, backed by Government guarantee for 25 years and has an added benefit in that it is index-linked to retail prices inflation.

As reported above subsidies and their lifespan will now fall from 1 August. But crucially the rules are that those who install certified solar panels systems before set cut-off dates are locked in at that period’s rate for 25 years, so homeowners who beat the deadline should have nothing to fear, however much the Feed-in Tariffs are cut by in the future.

Of course, the other added benefit does come from a reduction in bills, as when homes are using solar energy they are not racking up electricity costs from suppliers.
So is this worth doing?

There are three big things to consider about buying solar panels: the direction your roof faces in, where your home is and the size (and quality) of the installation.

A south facing roof, in southern England, will deliver the best returns and the largest a home solar panel system can be to get the best Feed-in Tariff rate is 4kWp. Adjusting each of these factors of location, direction and size will impact on performance and what you get back.

The Energy Saving Trust has a calculator on its site that can work out potential returns for you, although bear in mind that the £10,000 figures quoted for installation costs are more expensive than what solar firms are now suggesting they can do.

We crunched the numbers on the 3kWp system example that Evo Energy said would cost about £7,000, on a south facing roof, in South East England, for a home with £35 per month electricity bills.

Generation Tariff - £534

Export Tariff - £38

Energy bill saving - £79

Total return - £651

Disregarding the savings on electricity bills, that delivers a total return of £572 from Feed-in Tariff payments.

If a householder paid £7,000 for the solar panels, that equates to a 8.2 per cent annual income return, tax-free. (Including energy bill savings it is 9.3 per cent.)

full article

Solar panel payments slashed


Solar panel returns will be slashed again from August, with a cut to payments, their lifespan reduced by five years and plans to regularly cut back on subsidies revealed.

The major part of the Feed-in Tariff solar panel subsidies will be cut by almost a quarter, for new installations, the Government confirmed. Meanwhile, the period that they are paid over will fall from 25 to 20 years.

The move to cut solar subsidies under the Feed-in Tariffs scheme means homeowners hoping to take advantage of current generous rates must act swiftly - but they have been given an extra month to join.

In an announcement today, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said changes to the Feed-in Tariffs solar subsidies scheme would arrive for all new installations after 1 August - a month after the planned 1 July date.

The amount homeowners are paid for generating energy on an average-sized installation will fall from 21p to 16p per kilowatt hour (Kwh).

However, the tax-free element and valuable Retail Prices Index inflation-linking of returns will stay and homeowners will see what they are paid for the small amount of energy they export back to the grid rise from 3.2p to 4.5p per Kwh.

Rolling cuts to returns will also be brought in, with average reductions of 3.5 per cent every three months. This will be based on take up of panels and if it is high returns could fall faster, while if it is low cuts could be delayed.

The DECC claimed that the new tariffs would give a tax-free, inflation-linked return on investment of more than six per cent for most typical, well sited solar panels.

This a is a far cry, however, from the 10 per cent-plus returns some homeowners with panels installed are currently getting.

Tax-free returns of more than 10 per cent a year

The Government took the axe to the Feed-in Tariff in late 2011 – hacking the amount that householders get paid for generating electricity from 43.3p per unit down to 21p – dramatically reducing the potential rewards.

This triggered a big decline in the take-up of panels, but the solar industry says that a rapid fall in the cost of installations has now bumped up overall returns again.

Tax-free returns nearing 10 per cent a year from solar panel subsidies can be achieved again, they say. And even supermarket giant Tesco has got in on the act - offering 20 per cent of its panels this summer.

When This is Money crunched the numbers on Tesco's £6,799 3.92KWp system, using official figures from the Energy Saving Trust, we found that this could deliver homeowners with optimally placed roofs potential returns starting at 12.5 per cent a year.

In a piece of good news for those considering panels, the Government extended the deadline for new installations to keep the old 21p tariff by one month - previously cuts had been scheduled for 1 July.

Those interested must act swiftly, however, as installation lead times of a month to six weeks mean that they may need to book solar panels by mid-June.

The Government claimed that by laying out its future plans for solar panels and the rolling three-month cuts, it would bring 'certainty' to the industry and installations prospects.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said: 'We can now look with confidence to a future for solar which will see it go from a small cottage industry, anticipated under the previous scheme, to playing a significant part in Britain's clean energy economy.

'I want to send a very clear message today. UK solar continues to be an attractive proposition for many consumers considering microgeneration technologies and that having placed the subsidy support for this technology on a long-term, sustainable footing, industry can plan for growth with confidence.'

full article

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

UK government to review Green Deal


Downing Street is about to review the government's Green Deal after warnings that it's liable to fail.

The Cabinet Office has been interviewing critics of the flagship scheme and is expected to report soon.

The Deal - to insulate the UK's aged housing stock - is designed to save carbon emissions, keep people warm, and make energy affordable.

But critics say it won't give enough help to the fuel poor, and warn it may waste £2-3bn of people's energy bills.

They say this is a scandal after the recent warning that the number of people unable to afford their energy bills is likely to rise to 8.5 million.

The Green Deal is split into two parts. The larger part relies on householders voluntarily taking pay-as-you-save loans to cut energy bills through home insulation. The private sector is supposed to deliver the improvements.

The other part of the programme, known as ECO, will subsidise people to insulate their homes if they can't do it without help. This will be funded through a £1.3bn-a-year charge against all of our energy bills.


But there is a dispute over the priorities.
'Widespread' complaints

The government says most lofts and cavity walls are already insulated under previous schemes so it wants to offer grants on much more expensive solid wall insulation.

Solid walls will ultimately have to be made warmer if the UK housing stock meets expectations for reducing carbon emissions. But it is thought that at first this expensive and disruptive option will be mostly taken up by affluent households.

It is crazy if the Green Deal fails to ensure that all the homes in the country at least have adequate loft insulation”

Critics say it makes no sense to insulate solid walls at approximately £7,500 a home when you can insulate lofts of the "fuel poor" for £500 a home.

They also argue that the ECO subsidies scheme will force low-income families to pay extra on their fuel bills to subsidise solid wall insulation for more wealthy homes.

Complaints have been so widespread that a Cabinet Office team was detailed to interview the critics, who estimate that by pushing money towards solid walls rather than lofts the government could waste between £2bn and £3bn of energy bill payers' money in coming years.

"It is crazy if the Green Deal fails to ensure that all the homes in the country at least have adequate loft insulation," said Andrew Warren of the Association for Conservation of Energy, an industry lobby group.

"Loft insulation and cavity wall insulation are the basic first steps in terms of effectiveness. Treating solid walls is a very much more expensive option that'll have to be paid for by the energy consumers whose bills will be funding the Green Deal.

"The number of people in fuel poverty is rising. If you get the policy right you can tackle fuel poverty by getting everyone's lofts and cavity walls insulated."

This was a common criticism when the government opened the Green Deal to consultation at Christmas, and ministers have shifted ground since.
Stopping short?

In April, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised that of the £1.3bn ECO subsidies, at least £540m should save energy in the worst-off homes. He said: "Each year this money will help 180,000 of the poorest households make their homes cheaper to heat for good."

But this doesn't go far enough for the critics, who are baffled by the Department of Energy and Climate Change's (Decc) assertion that it is time to focus on solid walls because almost all lofts and cavity walls are already done.

A recent Decc document shows that only 60% of homes (14.1 million out of 23.3 million) currently have an adequate insulation blanket of at least 125mm.


The pay-as-you-save side of the Green Deal is also wobbling because few people in the energy sector believe it will deliver the savings in energy and carbon needed for UK climate change targets. Buildings are responsible for more than 40% of UK emissions.

The Cabinet Office team has been told that the Chancellor should nudge people into the Green Deal by changing Stamp Duty to reward householders who have insulated their homes, or punish those who haven't.



Golden rule

A Green Alliance report compared the Green Deal with the recent digital TV switchover and concluded: "There is a huge risk that the government's current plans for communications won't deliver the levels of take-up needed to make sure the Green Deal (is) a success." The author, Faye Scott, says the scheme needs strong, trusted national branding.


The government insists that insulation schemes offered under the Green Deal should follow the so-called Golden Rule that the improvements must be paid back during the agreed loan period.

A trial in Sutton in South East London suggested that bills were reduced by between £170 and £270 a year. Press reports said that under that trial, 25% of improvements did not meet the Golden Rule.


full article

Friday, 13 April 2012

Is it cheaper to put the heating on high for a short time or longer at a lower temperature?

A house will heat up from cold more quickly the hotter the radiators are.

On the face of it, therefore, operating a boiler at maximum means a warm home, quicker.

However, the efficiency of a central heating system – and this is particularly true for modern condensing boilers – depends a very great deal on the correct matching of boiler power output to the size and number of radiators.

So, key to keeping your home warm with the central heating system at minimum cost, is having the correct boiler installed in the first place, and then using the correct power output setting.

If you set your boiler output too high, then the temperature at which the water returns to the boiler after circulating through the radiator system will be too high for it to recover much heat from the boiler’s exhaust gases (the process that normally makes condensing boilers much more efficient).

Try operating the boiler with as low an output setting as is consistent with achieving the required warmth in your home in a reasonable time.

Do be aware, however, that operating at low boiler output temperatures will also mean that water in your domestic hot water tank will take longer to warm-up too – so a little trial-and-error will be required.

full article

Thursday, 12 April 2012

US tops global clean energy investment rankings

The US has regained top spot from China as the biggest investor in clean energy in 2011, according to global rankings.

The table, published in a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, showed that US invested more than $48bn (£30bn) in the sector, up from $34bn in 2010.

China slipped to second place, the authors reported, with investment only increasing by $0.5bn to $45.5bn.

Globally, overall financial backing in clean energy technologies hit a record $263bn, up 6.5% from 2010 levels.

The report, Who is Winning the Clean Energy Race, showed that G20 nations accounted for 95% of the investment in the sector (which does not include nuclear power).

The data, compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, ranked the UK as seventh in the world, with $9.4bn of investment in 2011.

Over the course of the year, an additional 83.5 gigawatts (GW) was added to the world's clean energy generation capacity, including almost 30GW of solar and 43GW of wind.

full article

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Energy firms to 'guarantee best deal' on tariffs

Energy companies will be required to let customers know what their best deal is, in a move which ministers say could save households up to £100 a year.

Firms will be obliged to tell people about the most suitable tariff for them and to offer it if they request it.

Announcing the move, Deputy PM Nick Clegg said seven out of 10 people have the wrong deal and pay too much.

Labour have accused energy firms of "ripping off" people and said there must be more competition in the market.

Under the deal, British Gas, E.On, NPower, Scottish and Southern Energy, EDF and Scottish Power will contact their customers once a year to tell them what the best tariff is for them, and how to get it.

They will also contact customers coming to the end of a fixed-term contract with the same advice.

They will not be obliged to let people know about cheaper deals with rival companies.

full article

Monday, 26 March 2012

Govt appeal over feed-in-tariffs fails

The Government has failed in its bid to get permission to appeal to the Supreme Court over a High Court ruling which deemed its decision to lower solar feed-in-tariffs was illegal.

In November, the Government announced it was bringing forward the date for its reduction in feed-in tariffs to December 12, 2011, rather than in April 2012 as previously planned and 11 days before the consultation ended on December 23. Friends of the Earth argued this change with little notice was unlawful.
The High Court deemed the ruling was illegal in January only for Government to announce it was to make a formal appeal one week later.

Under the proposals, solar panels installed after December 12 last year would have received reduced Fit payments. For new residential units up to the 4kw band, the rate was cut from 43.3p per kw to 21p per kw.

The plans led to some EIS and VCTs withdrawing offerings or considering changes to product mandates.

The decision to reject the appeal means that any installations built from April 1, 2012, will receive the lower feed-in-tariff rate. All domestic installations finished before March 3 this year will still get the higher 43.3p rate, while those finished between March 3 and March 31, will receive the higher rate until April 1, then it is reduced to 21p.

full article

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Government cut to solar tariffs blocked as appeal fails

The court case involved the government's move to halve the payments made to households with solar panels, which it says are unsustainable.

Solar businesses and campaigners had warned thousands of jobs could be lost as a result of the move.

Under the feed-in tariffs programme, people in Britain with solar panels are paid for the electricity they generate.
Confusion

The decision will lead to widespread confusion over what the tariff level is.

The previous tariff was just over 43p per Kilowatt-hour generated.

The new tariff of 21p per kilowatt-hour had been expected to come into effect from 1 April.

But in October, the government said the reduced rate would be paid to anyone who installed their solar panels after 12 December, sparking anger from environmental groups and installers.

The government announced a consultation on the proposals, which closed on 23 December - 11 days after the decision was to have been implemented.

The High Court ruled that changing the tariffs in this way was "legally flawed", a ruling the Court of Appeal has now upheld.

The change had particularly upset industry as it affected projects which may already have been commissioned but not installed.

"This decision has very important implications for the whole renewable energy sector in the UK," said Ben Warren a partner at Ernst and Young.

"It is a clear message that retrospective adjustment of support is not acceptable,"
Appeal

The government has put a contingency plan in place which would see the current tariff, of 43p, remain in place until the start of March.

However, they are also considering appealing in the Supreme Court against the latest ruling, potentially allowing them to return to the cut-off date of 12 December.

A DECC spokesperson said: "The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court ruling on FITs. We are now considering our options."

They added that it meant there were "no guarantees" on any tariff consumers were offered after 12 December.

The tariff for surplus electricity exported to the national grid remains 3.1p per kilowatt-hour paid in addition to the tariff, and is unaffected by the changes.
Money shortage

There is also uncertainty about the sustainability of the reduced rate - as a rush of installations now may use up the scheme's remaining budget.

"The future of the feed in tariff beyond April 2012 is now hugely uncertain. Government and industry now need to work together to create a sustainable solar industry in the UK," added Mr Warren.

The Renewable Energy Association has called for the overall budget to be increased.

"The government's action and the subsequent court case had together thrown the solar industry into a state of extreme uncertainty," said chief executive Gaynor Hartnell.

"We now want to put this behind us as swiftly as possible, and work with government and supporters to secure a larger budget for small scale renewable energy generation," she added.

full article

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

cut your energy bills

All of the 'big six' companies have announced small price reductions in the past week, taking the average total annual energy bill from £1,293 to £1,259 — a £34 cut, according to comparison site uSwitch.

British Gas has reduced electricity by 5 per cent with immediate effect. This will mean 5.3million people will save £24 a year on average.

EDF will reduce gas prices by 5 per cent from February  7, allowing 1.4million people to save £36 a year. Scottish & Southern Energy will cut gas prices by 3.8 per cent from March 26. It means 3.5million customers will save £28 a year.

Npower is cutting gas prices by 5 per cent from February 1, so 1.9million gas customers will save an average of £38. For the next two months, it is also waiving the £20 exit fees it charges 140,000 customers on fixed tariffs.

E.ON is cutting electricity prices by 6 per cent from February 27. This means 3.7million people will see an average reduction of £33 and exit fees will also be waived.

Scottish Power will reduce gas prices by 5 per cent, also from February 27, knocking an average £36 off 1.4million people’s bills.

Bills increased by an average of £224 last year, so the recent cuts have only wiped out 15 per cent of this.


Why has this happened?

Wholesale gas and electricity prices have fallen over the past year. British Gas says the 'longer term trend' of gas prices will be for them to rise.

But Adam Scorer, of Consumer Focus, says: 'Companies will respond differently depending on where they think wholesale prices are heading.'

Should I switch to a new deal?

Now that all of the big six suppliers have changed prices, it is a good time to switch because there is a level playing field.

If you are on a fixed tariff, it will depend on when you signed up as to whether you can now save money. You should also calculate if the exit penalties — typically £20 for gas and £20 for electricity — are more than the savings you could make by switching, although Npower and E.ON are waiving these fees.

For example, those on British Gas’s dual fuel deal that expires in June 2012 are currently paying over the odds at £1,217, but those whose deals expire in October 2012 are paying only £1,045 — which is hard to beat, according to comparison site Moneysupermarket.

The average standard tariff is now £1,251. But you can save money by switching to an online deal — where you input your meter readings and receive your bills via email. The cheapest online deal is First Utility's iSave v9 at £1,030, or Scottish Power’s Online Energy Saver 17 at £1,085. If you want a fixed tariff, the cheapest is Ovo’s New Energy Fixed at £1,059.

How do I switch?

If you have access to the internet, you can use a comparison website such as Moneysupermarket, uSwitch or Confused. You can also use This is Money's energy bill finder to switch.

To get the most accurate comparison, you will need your annual usage in kWh (this should be on the back of your bill or on your annual statement) and the exact name of the tariff you are on.

If you don’t have the internet, comparison website uSwitch’s free service ‘Send us your bill’ allows people to send them a copy of their latest energy bill and an adviser will call you back. Send your bill and phone number to FREEPOST USWITCH.

Copies of bills will not be returned afterwards, but will be destroyed. Alternatively, you can call uSwitch on 0800 093 06 07.

Is there anything else I can do?

you should submit a meter reading the day before your price fall comes into effect, to ensure as many days as possible are billed at the lower price. Keep our table to remember when to do it.

Which is the cheapest energy tariff?

The cheapest online tariff is currently First Utility's iSave Dual Fuel V9, with an annual bill size of £1,030. The cheapest of the 'big six' is nPower - with its Go Fix 10, with an annual bill size of £1,078.

However, customers are tied into a fixed contract until 8 April 2013. The cheapest of the 'big six' online, if you do not want to fix your prices, is with Scottish Power for an annual bill size of £1,085.

The cheapest standard plan (which means paying on receipt of the bill) remains EDF Energy for an annual bill size of £1,202.

The cheapest fixed is OVO's New Energy Fixed - this plan is an online and fixed plan. Prices are fixed for one year from live date. Average bill size is £1,061.

The longest fixed is Scottish and Southern Energy's Price Fix 7 - prices are fixed for three years from going live. Annual bill size of £1,307.

These estimations are all based on a medium user consuming 3300kWh electricity and 16,500kWh gas with bill sizes averaged across all regions.

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

There are more charging points than electric cars in UK as sales slump

Sales of electric cars have slumped so badly that there are now more charging points than vehicles on the road.

Just 2,149 electric cars have been sold since 2006, despite a government scheme last year offering customers up to £5,000 towards the cost of a vehicle.

The Department for Transport says that around 2,500 charging points have been installed, although their precise location is not known.
The government grant has boosted sales - from 138 in 2010 to 1,1082 last year - but only £3.9million of the £300million set aside has been paid out.

A spokesman for the DFT told The Sunday Times: 'It's fair to say that there hasn't been a huge take-up over the past year.'

The high cost of electric cars has put many off. The Nissan Leaf still costs £25,990 even after the £5,000 grant has been deducted.

Electric cars are also only suitable for short journeys, with a maximum range of around 100 miles on a full charge.

The government is spending £30million on publicly-funded charging points and those in private companies.

These range from points which take between six and eight hours, to those which provide an 80 per cent charge in half an hour.

Drivers can pay an annual fee to use the majority of the points, with authorities charging a membership fee for the year but no extra charge for electricity.

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Which? urges halt to smart meter installation

The consumer group Which? said the cost of fitting the digital meters would fall on hard-pressed consumers, but the benefits would be reaped by energy companies which have announced record profits in recent years.

Ministers want energy companies to install the new generation of high-technology meters, which allow users to monitor their energy use in real-time, in all homes by 2020.

The flagship policy is a key part of plans to make the UK more energy efficient and was initially introduced by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, while serving as energy secretary in the last government.

Smart meters will save energy giants hundreds of millions of pounds in administration costs as they will no longer have to pay staff to read meters.

Supporters say they will also enable consumers to reduce their energy consumption and take advantage of cheaper off-peak tariffs.

However, Which? said there is increasing evidence that consumers do not use less gas or electricity once a smart meter is installed.

It also said that some meters already installed can only be used with one energy provider – thereby discouraging home owners from shopping around for the best deal.

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, said: "Consumers won't accept [smart meters] at any cost, or from suppliers they don't trust. It's naive to hope that competition in the energy market will keep under control the cost of installing smart meters in every home in the country.

"The Government must not write a blank cheque on behalf of every energy customer, especially at a time when millions of people are struggling to pay their bills.

"The energy department should stop and review the smart meter roll-out before it becomes an £11 billion fiasco."

A report by the Centre for Sustainable Energy, commissioned by Which? and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, states that there is a "meaningful risk … that the programme will fail consumers".

This week the Public Accounts Committee, a powerful panel of MPs, is also expected to publish a critical report on the introduction of smart meters.

British Gas, which has already installed nearly 400,000 smart meters in homes and business, urged the Government to continue with the programme.

GearĂ³id Lane, managing director of British Gas New Markets, said: "Our customers have told us loud and clear about how they are benefiting from smart meters.

"Smart meters put an end to the frustration of estimated bills, give customers more direct control over their energy use and open the door to new energy saving technologies.

"There is more to smart meters than just cost savings, and any slowdown of this crucial investment will frustrate energy customers."

Charles Hendry, the energy minister, said: "As Which? themselves reported last week, the major cause of complaints to energy companies is poor and inaccurate billing.

"Smart meters will mean more accurate information and an end to estimated billing – so no more nasty surprises for consumers.

"The benefits of smart meters are £18.1 billion for an £11 billion investment – that's a £7 billion net benefit to the nation, and we want to realise it sooner rather than later."

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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Liquid-cooled LED light

A revolutionary liquid-cooled LED light developed by a Californian-based firm is the first “eco” light that is as bright as a normal 100 watt bulb.

The new generation LED light bulbs are all set to go on sale and are expected to result in energy savings for consumers.

The design, developed by makers Switch, offers a longer life and a better performance than a regular bulb.

However, unlike the traditional design, it will use a fraction of the watts to emit a brightness that matches up to its 100-watt counterpart.

The bulb which was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, is set to retail for £24 when it eventually goes on sale.

“The big thing about this bulb is it uses 80 per cent less energy than an incandescent,” the Daily Mail quoted Brett Sharenow, strategy officer for the company as saying.

“In commercial applications in general, they really would like to get back to the light quality that you get from an incandescent bulb,” he said.

The LED light bulbs are presently available only for the US 120-volt system, but the company plans to release versions of the bulbs for use in the UK and Europe by the end of 2012.

Sharenow believes the bulbs will be a particular hit in the UK, where energy costs are as much as double those in the US.

“For a commercial application, the payback is about six months. To commercial users, it is a no-brainer.” he added.

full article

Friday, 13 January 2012

Six easy tips on saving energy

Switch supplier

Nothing could be easier — in principle. But we all know that those comparison websites are a minefield. You spend ages punching in figures, but one mistake and you’re back where you started. More than a third of us have never made the switch.

What you need is someone to do the leg-work for you. So, come in incahoot.com. All that’s required is that you send them a copy of your latest bill and they will work out the best deal. They will even contact your old provider and set up a direct debit with the new company.
Get insulated

By simply installing cavity wall and loft insulation you can make savings of between £185 and £310 a year, according to the National Insulation Association.

What’s more, there are plenty of grants available to meet green targets set by the Government.

If you’re over 70 or on qualifying benefits, you might even be entitled to have the work done for free. Remember that nearly a quarter of all heat loss in an uninsulated house is through the roof. The recommended depth for mineral wool insulation is 270mm and you can do it yourself perfectly easily.

Visit nationalinsulationassociation.org.uk for more information.

Natural heat

There has been a big resurgence for wood-burning stoves in the past decade. No wonder. They are carbon-neutral, energy-efficient and have a habit of cheering people up.

Of course, open fires are atmospheric, but most of the heat goes up the chimney. While an open fire is estimated at being between 15 per cent to 20 per cent efficient, a wood-burning stove is about 70 per cent efficient. And wood is also one of the cleanest sources of energy.

‘Wood-burning cassettes,’ as they are called, are popular. They’re installed flush into a wall that backs into a chimney. Stovax.com (01392 474000) has a good range.

Green and clean

Hard water affects 60 per cent of Britain. What this means is that calcium builds up inside pipes, boilers and heating appliances, wasting energy. The result? It costs more to heat your home and shortens the life of your boiler, dishwasher and washing machine.

The solution? Install an electronic water conditioner that removes limescale, saving up to £200 a year from your fuel bill. Plug in the machine in and wrap its cord around the main incoming water pipe.

It costs £69.99 (special offer until end of January), guaranteed money back if you’re not happy (01491 419200, scalewizard.co.uk).

Tackle the draught

Wooden floors look lovely, but 15 per cent of heat can be lost through them. Put down rugs during winter and remove them in summer.
Windows and external doors will let in the cold. Buy self-adhesive foam strips to tackle the problem.

If you’re unsure where the draughts are coming from, walk around the house with a candle and see when it flickers.

Temperature control

Most of us live in homes that are far too hot. Turning the temperature down just one degree can save about £55 a year. Now put on a jumper and fill those hot water bottles.

Fuel bills are bad for your blood pressure — and your wallet. Mark Palmer has some simple remedies

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Thursday, 12 January 2012

British Gas and SSE announce price cuts

British Gas has cut its electricity prices by 5% with immediate effect, while SSE will reduce gas tariffs by 4.5% on 26 March.

The moves come a day after EDF Energy announced plans to cut its domestic gas tariff by an average of 5% owing to low energy use during the mild winter.

The price cuts will add pressure on the rest of the major suppliers to cut their tariffs as wholesale prices dip.

British Gas said the average annual domestic bill would fall by £24.

"We want to keep prices as low as possible for our customers. Household budgets are stretched, and we are doing everything we can to help our customers keep their bills down," said Ian Peters of British Gas.

"This price reduction means British Gas is once again offering the cheapest standard electricity, on average, of any major supplier."

The price cut comes after a 16% rise in electricity prices and an 18% rise in gas prices for British Gas customers in August.
Future costs

The company said that 5.3 million customers on variable tariffs, including those on dual-fuel deals, would benefit from the price cut.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

It may be interesting to note that a 5% gas price cut would have cost British Gas more than double this electricity price cut”

Mark Todd Energyhelpline.com

The reduction comes into effect ahead of the EDF gas price cut which comes into force on 7 February. The EDF change is set to cut the typical annual bill by £38.

British Gas said that it was not changing its gas charges because, although there had been some short-term falls in the cost of gas, the longer term trend in wholesale prices was upward. It said it bought its energy in advance.

The company said it was too early to predict what would happen to prices in the future.

The choice to cut the cost of electricity, rather than gas - for which British Gas has more customers - has caused some debate.

"Every drop is welcome but consumers will find it baffling that the company cannot also reduce gas bills as well - especially after the EDF Energy move," said Mark Todd of Energyhelpline.com.

"The maths do not seem to add up so British Gas need to do something on gas as well if they want to look like they are passing on wholesale falls fairly. It may be interesting to note that a 5% gas price cut would have cost British Gas more than double this electricity price cut."
Following suit

Just a few hours after British Gas dropped its electricity prices, SSE - which runs Southern Electric and Scottish Hydro - announced the planned reduction of its gas price in late March.

Some 3.5 million customers would see their typical annual gas bill fall by £28, SSE said.

"Virtually all of the gas being supplied to customers this winter was bought some time ago, but some of the gas that will be supplied to customers from the spring onwards has been purchased since the period of lower wholesale prices began," it said.

"Having analysed and considered the position for some time, SSE is able to announce this reduction in household prices."

The company raised gas prices by 18% and electricity prices by 11% in September.

Adam Scorer, of watchdog Consumer Focus, said that companies would react differently depending on how they expected wholesale prices to change. But he said any drops in wholesale costs should be reflected in the price the consumer paid.

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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

EDF Energy to cut gas price by 5%

One of the UK's largest energy suppliers, EDF Energy, has said it is to cut its gas bills by 5% from 7 February.

The move follows a sharp fall in the price of wholesale gas over the winter period due to the mild weather.

EDF increased its gas bills by 15.4% in November in response to rising wholesale gas prices.

The move to cut bills is the first by a major supplier and is likely to be followed by other energy companies.

The company did not announce any cut to the price of its electricity bills, which rose by 4.5% in November.

"What customers want more than anything else is fair, clear and transparent prices. We know they want action rather than words. That is why we are the first major supplier to announce a cut and were the last to increase prices," said Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy.
'Join in'

The company said that the wholesale price of gas had fallen 9.2% since it announced it was putting up bills on 10 November last year.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Now the pressure is on for the rest of the major suppliers to follow suit”

Richard Lloyd Which? executive director

The typical bill will fall by about £38 a year, according to price comparison website Uswitch, with the average dual-fuel customer paying about £1,203 a year.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has called on the rest of the major suppliers to follow suit and cut their prices.

Some smaller suppliers have announced price cuts of some tariffs or cancellation of price rises in recent weeks.

EDF has been one of the most active in marketing price changes. It was the last of the six major suppliers to cut prices this autumn. Last winter, it held its prices until March amid widespread price rises.
Dissatisfaction

However, the price cut comes as an annual customer satisfaction survey carried out by the consumers' association Which? showed EDF second bottom of the "big six" energy suppliers.

In all, 43% of customers said they were satisfied with the company's service or likely to recommend it to others.

Of the big six suppliers, only one, Scottish and Southern Energy, received a score of more than 50%, getting 51%.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, welcomed EDF's upcoming price cut.

"Now the pressure is on for the rest of the major suppliers to follow suit. But as our survey today shows, there remain huge problems with customer service in energy as well as high prices," he said.

This report suggested that, when customers had gripes about their energy company, some 90% of unsolved complaints were not taken to the energy ombudsman for resolution.

The ombudsman can get involved if the complaint has been outstanding for eight weeks, or if the supplier sends a letter saying the two parties are in deadlock.

Some 95% of complaints looked at by the ombudsman are upheld and 70% of them receive financial redress, Which? said.

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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Power company says overcharging cost UK £134m

A study by power company Eon has found that British households waste £134 million a year in electricity costs by overcharging mobiles phones and laptop computers.

One can only assume that over the festive period the authors of the report didn't feel like checking in with any remotely qualified engineers that would point out that the vast majority of chargers, and all chargers for anything with a lithium-chemistry battery like phones and laptops, stop charging the battery when its full.

If they didn't, the battery would dangerously overheat. For batteries using nickle cadmium or nickle metal hydride chemistries, typically chargers will fast charge and then switch to a trickle when the battery is near full. That trickle is important to maintain the cell capacity, lest you want to pick up your device and find it has no charge at all.
That said, there is a nugget of truth regarding wasting of power by leaving devices plugged into a charger after they have finished charging. A small amount of residual power will be drawn by the AC adaptor, usually a couple of watts or so.

In recent years there's been a raising of awareness over so-called phantom power consumption of devices with unusually large power draw when in stand-by, such as set-top boxes. The upshot of that was that manufacturers improved their standby power consumption and it's still an area worth highlighting.

Ironically Eon was using the report to draw attention to their Energy Fit plan which consists of a power meter and a free smartphone app.

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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Five ways to save money on your energy bills

Insulate your home

There's no point in spending money heating your house if it is simply leaking into the atmosphere, so make sure your home is as insulated as possible. According to the Energy Saving Trust, cavity wall insulation is the most effective energy-saving measure you can take.

This simple measure, which involves injecting foam into the gap between your walls, can save £110 a year. There are grants available for installing this, especially if you are over 60. Try the Energy Saving Trust's grant search tool on www.energysavingtrust.org.uk

Loft insulation, which saves around £40 a year on the average house, can also be installed at a subsidised cost, if you can get a grant. Most homes have some loft insulation, but normally fall short of the recommended level of 220mm.
Switch to the cheapest provider

The biggest change you can make to energy bills is by making sure you are on the cheapest tariff for gas and electricity. This won't make any difference to the quality of the energy supplied to you, but it could make a vast difference to the cost.

Give your boiler an MOT

If you buy boiler insurance cover you may get a service with it – however, this has risen by as much as 20pc since last year and now costs between £150 and £200, so it pays to check whether you really need it.
If your boiler is really old and does need replacing, it may pay to do it sooner rather than later. The Energy Saving Trust calculates that the difference between gas bills from a home with an old boiler to one with an ultra-efficient new one is as much as £225 a year for an average three-bedroom semi. Getting a new one sorted before winter kicks in could be sensible if you know that yours is on its last legs.

Keep an eye on your usage

Some companies, are energy monitors out free to customers; or you can buy one from theOwl.com for from just over £20.

These can be attached to your electricity meter, and can act as a powerful incentive to switch off lights and appliances by showing you exactly how much your usage is costing.

Studies suggest you could save 5pc of your electricity bills by using one, although of course this is a behavioural saving – you won't get cheaper bills just from looking at the monitor.

Sadly, these do not yet exist for gas meters.


Stop up the gaps

You can also increase your winter comfort factor by blocking draughts, especially if you have single-glazed windows. Just fitting draught stripping across your doors could save you £25 in winter. Even when the figures sound unimpressive, don't underestimate the extra comfort that thick curtains, draught excluders and other cheap measures can bring.

Rosalyn Dungate, of the Energy Saving Trust, suggests blocking cracks between floors and skirting boards with material, newspaper or decorator's caulking, a cheap home-made solution that could save money and make life far warmer.

Plenty of heat is also lost through your chimney if it is open, so if you're not having fires, try using a chimney balloon to seal it. These are easily deflated and removed.

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