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There can't be many people left who aren't aware of the devastating effect that excessive carbon dioxide emissions are having on our environment. The prospect of climate change should be a real concern for all of us. Stories of melting ice caps may seem remote today, but they will not be so irrelevant when the resultant rise in sea levels leaves the waves lapping around our ankles.

It has been said numerous times before that only a few small changes to our lifestyles could have a big impact on the future of the planet. The difference now is that not only is the pressure to make these changes mounting, but governments have begun to listen to the environmental campaigners and enshrine their objectives in legislation.

One of these changes is a decision to apply Energy Performance Certificates (such as those found on fridges and freezers) to all houses bought and sold or rented in England and Wales. These give every house an A to G rating for its energy efficiency and carbon emissions, as well as offering information on how these ratings can be improved.

Beside these measures, there is plenty of room for most households to make substantial savings on their CO2 emissions (and therefore their energy bills) by improving their insulation, installing energy-efficient light bulbs and buying the most environmentally-friendly appliances for their home.

The most important decision to make is the switch to renewable energy. This is now easier than ever before, particularly as most of the major companies offer their own 'green' energy packages. The best option, however, is to switch to an energy company which truly supports renewable energy or even to set up a micro generation site of your own. This section of The Good Shopping Guide includes an in-depth look at renewable energy, as well as tips on home efficiency and a few novel gadgets that could help cut your energy use even further.

RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY SUPPLIERS

Switching to a green electricity supplier is a great way to reduce your CO2 emissions. Green power is a growing area, and the more demand there is for renewable energy, the more pressure there will be on governments and power companies to provide it. Many potential customers are put off from making the switch by the challenge of finding the right tariff, which is why this guide is here to help.

The future of energy is green...

The biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions are power stations, which account for around one third of the total produced. Coal power stations are the least efficient, and although the increased popularity of natural gas burning has reduced our potential CO2 emissions slightly, the benefits are offset by an increase in energy usage overall. Our rising electricity consumption requires more and more power to be generated, and although consumers' energy efficiency can help reduce this, the only real alternative is to source electricity from renewable resources.

Confusing market

The domestic energy market is confusing. A few years ago customers knew that one gas company supplied their gas and nothing else, and another did the same with their electricity. In recent years all customers have been able to change their gas or electricity supplier and over 19 million have swapped in search of a better deal. Now homeowners have a dazzling array of tariffs and service providers, before they even attempt to take the environment into account. Most of the main energy companies provide some kind of green tariff for electricity. The price and coverage depends on the area in which you live, but it is generally accepted that green electricity tariffs cost the consumer slightly more than conventional tariffs.

Green energy supply has been available to some customers in this country from as far back as 1997. However, it did not truly become an option for the average consumer until the energy market was completely opened up to competition in May 1999. Since then the offerings that are available have come a long way. The green energy revolution has gained significant support at a commercial level. Large energy users and corporations have taken to green energy in a big way. It is not only the large 'green'-centric companies such as The Body Shop that have a green power supply, but also institutions including Oxford University, who have 100 per cent of their energy needs provided for by a green supplier.

Any company, small or large, that claims 'corporate social responsibility' but has not yet switched to a renewable energy supply should think again! With an increasing number of green energy tariffs now available in the UK, there is a lot of choice around for the consumer. However, it is not the case that these tariffs all offer the same product. The most important issue for those on a budget may be that of cost. For an average household, as you might expect due to economies of scale, the price of receiving a green energy supply is slightly higher. . However, changing your methods of payment to either direct debit or one annual fee can, in most cases, partially offset the extra cost, so there is no reason not to change your supply today.

Why switch to renewable electricity?

When we read the newspapers and watch the news on TV every day, and see the environmental disasters and freak weather conditions that are attributed to global warming, we can see for ourselves the effects of the by-products of traditional energy generation. Electricity production is the single biggest contributor to the emissions that cause climate change.

The prime gas responsible for global warming or the 'greenhouse effect' is carbon dioxide or CO2. The burning of oil, coal and gas (otherwise known as fossil fuels) in traditional power stations produces a considerable amount of carbon dioxide. The UK, which has 1 per cent of the world's population, emits 2.3 per cent of the world's total emissions of CO2. Not only do fossil fuels contribute to the degradation of the environment, they are also finite in nature and increasingly have to be imported into the UK, sometimes from politically unstable areas of the world. It is only a matter of time before the planet's supply of these fuels runs out.

One alternative to traditional fuel burning stations is nuclear power. This, however, is far from being a solution to global pollution. Although British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) has been pushing nuclear power as the non-polluting solution to climate change, this is certainly not the case. During its lifetime (around 30-40 years) a nuclear reactor can produce radioactive waste that has a 'lifespan' of thousands of years. This waste needs to be disposed of safely, as it is highly dangerous. Although no CO2 is produced there are other by-products to the nuclear process that could potentially do serious harm to the environment.

In contrast to these more traditional forms of energy supply is renewable or 'green' energy. Not only does green energy not directly result in any by-products that may be harmful to our environment, it also comes from renewable and everlasting sources such as wind and water or the sun In fact, most forms of renewable energy produce very little or no waste, and therefore have a minimal impact on the world around us. When you switch to a renewable energy supply, you are also supporting the future of the renewable energy industry. By showing the government and mainstream energy suppliers that you wholeheartedly support renewable energy, you can help convince them to increase the support they offer to the industry as a whole

How do you switch?

The great thing about switching to a green energy tariff is that it's incredibly easy to do. There is no need to get the electricians in, or have anything changed physically with your electricity supply. This is down to the nature of the green energy tariffs available to the consumer. These include the energy-based tariff, the fund-based tariff and tariffs that offer a combination of the two.

Of the choices available, the energy-based tariff is the one that actually offers you renewable energy in return for your money. Whilst there is no change in the actual electricity coming down the wires into your home when you subscribe to an energy-based tariff, a proportion of what you pay will be matched by the equivalent amount of energy being fed into the national grid from renewable sources. 100% renewable energy tariffs promise over the course of the year to match 100 per cent of the units of electricity you buy from them with an equal amount from renewable sources.

With fund-based energy tariffs a proportion of the money you pay the supplier is donated into a fund that supports new renewable capacity, green causes or other related initiatives. An independent body, established either by the supplier or a registered charity, normally administers these funds. In some cases the donation made from the consumer is matched in equal amounts by a donation made by the tariff supplier. A combination tariff is usually some mixture of both fund based and energy-based supply.

It is extremely easy to switch to a green energy tariff. All you need to do is register your interest with a supplier and they can sign you up over the phone or send you forms to fill out by post. It is also possible to switch your supplier with very little hassle online at www.gooshing.co.uk. Here you can arrange to pay by direct debit, which will also save you money.

Over the following pages you will find information about the most widely available tariffs and how they operate, plus The Good Shopping Guide's ratings for each company.

Choosing the best supplier

With the introduction of the Renewables Obligation in England and Scotland in 2002 (2005 in Northern Ireland), energy suppliers have been required to ensure that over the years an increasing proportion of all the electricity they provide comes from renewable energy sources. The minimum target was set at 3% when the obligation was introduced and will rise to 15.4% in 2015-16. For each unit of renewable energy bought they receive a certificate. If companies fail to match the required percentage they may buy certificates from those companies that have exceeded their minimum.

In order to reach their minimum requirement, large energy suppliers offer a green tariff to customers. In many cases this does not exceed or match the minimum percentage of renewable energy that the supplier is required to provide, as demand for traditional tariffs is still considerably greater. These suppliers then have to buy in certificates from smaller niche companies who only offer a green tariff, or whose green tariff makes up more than the required minimum percentage of their total energy supply. If, however, the niche company sells all its certificates above the percentage it retains to meet its own government targets, it results in a net status quo for the energy market. No extra demand for renewable energy supply is generated, as total demand for renewable energy is matched across the board. Trading of certificates at this level will mean that the net average of renewable energy supply will remain stable nationwide. However, if those suppliers that produce more than the minimum requirement set aside a further percentage of their certificates, above and beyond the required minimum (i.e. they "retire" their certificates), and refuse to sell them on, additional demand for renewable energy sources is generated..

When trying to evaluate which tariff is 'better', it's best to look at what green tariffs are trying to achieve. Ultimately the aim is to increase the amount of renewable energy supply there is in the country. By increasing the influence of renewable energy sources, it is possible to lessen the influence of the environmentally degrading sources, fossil fuels and nuclear power. It's for this reason that energy-based tariffs are the most positive choice.

ELECTRICITY COMPANIES WE RECOMMEND

Good Energy

Good Energy supplies 100 per cent renewable electricity to homes and businesses in England, Scotland and Wales. For every unit of electricity used by a Good Energy customer, Good Energy promises to supply the national grid with a unit of electricity generated from renewable power sources including wind, running water and the sun. Therefore every new consumer means Good Energy sources more renewable power. This is verified by an annual green audit carried out by an independent firm of chartered accountants. In addition, Good Energy supports micro-generators with its Home Generation Scheme, which pays people for all the electricity they generate from small renewable generators. A new website to support people who want to generate their own power has been launched by Good Energy at www.generateyourown.co.uk. Good Energy owns the UK's first-ever wind farm at Delabole in Cornwall and has over 1,000 investors, most of whom are Good Energy customers. They recently opened www.goodenergyshop.co.uk for those looking for the complete low carbon lifestyle. Good Energy is a founder member of The Ethical Company Organisation's Ethical Accreditation scheme and as such is audited every year. 0845 456 1640

Green Energy UK

Green Energy supplies electricity from renewable and green sources to customers all over the UK. Their energy comes from conventional renewable sources such as small scale hydro, solar and wind generators, but also from alternative green sources, for example electricity produced using the methane gas which is generated at landfills, as the waste breaks downs, or from farm animal manure, or biomass,. This also reduces CO2 pollution by preventing the gas being released into the atmosphere. Another source of the electricity supplied by Green Energy are Combined Heat and Power plants which sell their surplus electricity. Green Energy currently offer two tariffs: Deep Green, a tariff that matches 100% of the electricity used by the customer with a supply from a renewable power; and Pale Green, which comes from OFGEM approved low impact CHP generators. Through their share scheme Green Energy will give their first 100,000 customers the option to receive fully paid up shares in Green Energy. Green Energy has been a long-standing member of the Ethical Accreditation scheme and as such is regularly audited every 12 months. Tel. 0800 954 0675

Ecotricity

Ecotricity is an independent energy supplier that invests in large wind turbines. At Swaffham in Norfolk it built the country's first multi-megawatt wind turbine, which alone provides enough energy for 3,000 people. The renewable energy certificates earned by Ecotricity are sold on to help other energy suppliers meet their government targets. The profits earned from the tariff and the sale of certificates are then used to build further wind farms and turbines. Ecotricity have been particularly pro-active in building new power sources of renewable energy – this helps increase the amount of renewable energy available to the UK market, and they also support micro-generation project. Ecotricity offers two tariffs: 'New Energy' which comes from a mix of their own wind farms and brown energy sources, and 'New Energy Plus' which is a 100% green tariff. 08000 302 302

Final thoughts: the future

Despite the differences in the available green tariffs, and the ranking of one above another, switching to any green supply is a positive step to take. It is a win-win situation both for the environment and your peace of mind. Whether or not you choose a fund-based tariff or an energy-based tariff, what you are doing when you switch is registering your support for more environmental awareness from the energy suppliers. This will help encourage those suppliers who currently do not offer a green tariff to start one, which is clearly a good thing.

Your vote for a cleaner energy supply also has an impact on the future of government policy. For example, since 2005 all energy suppliers have had to disclose the exact sources of their electricity and how much came from renewables (their "energy mix"). Green energy supplier Good Energy decided to spearhead this disclosure and showed the market the way forward by making their sources available to the public in advance. So by supporting green energy suppliers you can also show your support for government reform.

It has never been easier to switch your energy supplier than it is now. All it takes is a simple phone call or compare further and switch through The Good Shopping Guide's recommended website, www.gooshing.co.uk/energy.html You can start helping to create a cleaner planet. So why wait?

OUR GUIDE TO ENERGY EFFICIENCY

A standard three bedroom detached house, without any forms of insulation, can cost up to £500 a year to heat. With proper energy efficiency measure taken it is entirely possible to halve this cost. It’s not only through heating that your energy efficiency in the home can be improved. Changes to your lighting and household appliances can also help reduce the amount of energy you consume.

HEATING

During the cold winter months we all rely on our heating to keep us warm and cosy. However, having an energy inefficient heating system can result in you spending more than you need to on your heating costs. Here are some tips on how you can improve your heating efficiency. Make sure you have an effective method of heating control. Boilers are unable to tell when you want heat or hot water without a form of heating control. If some form of heating control is installed you can regulate when and where you need heat. Controlling heat efficiently around the house can save you up to 17% on your heating costs. If your boiler is more the 15 years old you should think about replacing it. New energy efficient Condensing Boilers could save you up to 32% on your fuel bills. Even without upgrading to a Condensing Boiler, modern, more efficient boilers can still save you up to 20%. In addition to this your local Council may be able to provide a grant to help you out. If you live in a small property, you could also consider using energy efficient convection heaters or gas heaters to heat your property rather than relying on central heating.

LIGHTING

In the average home you can expect your lighting costs to account for 10-15% of your electricity bill. With lighting accountable for such a sizeable percentage of your costs, it seems only sensible to invest in ways in which you can improve efficiency around the house. With energy saving lightbulbs now readily available, here’s some further information:

Ordinary Bulbs
25W
40W
60W
100W
Energy Saving Bulbs
6W
8-11W
13-18W
20-25W

Energy saving lightbulbs only use a quarter of the energy that standard bulbs do. For this reason they are available in much lower wattages (see table). However the light from an energy saving bulb is often radiated differently to a conventional one,so you may need to choose an equivalent higher wattage bulb than you are used to achieve the same lighting effect. At the moment energy saving lightbulbs tend to be more expensive to buy than conventional ones, at around £5 for a 20W bulb. However the cost benefit makes up for this extra initial outlay. For every conventional bulb you replace with an energy saving one it could save you up to £10 a year on your electricity bill, making back the £5 spent on the bulb and leaving you with an extra £5 in your pocket. To complement energy saving bulbs, you could consider having energy saving fittings in which to place them. These are little transformers that fit into the base of the bulb which regulate the amount of energy that is fed into it. For the few milliseconds it takes for a bulb to light the transformer provides a surge of energy. Once a bulb is lit it requires far less power to stay alight, so the fitting maintains the electricity flow into the bulb at a very low level.

HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES

No matter how well you feel your household appliances are running and how few problems they have given you, they could still be extremely energy hungry and inefficient. As a general rule, the older your appliance the more it is going to cost to run. For this reason, where possible it is best to buy your fridges, cookers, dishwashers and washing machines brand new as they will be the most energy efficient. The saving you make on a second- hand purchase will soon be outweighed by the extra cost it takes to run the appliance. When buying new appliances look out for the Energy Efficiency Recommended logo. To find out more about which appliances currently available are listed as Energy Efficient, go to www.saveenergy.co.uk and browse the extensive database of Energy Efficient household appliances.

INSULATION

Bad insulation in the home can result in a considerable heat loss. Most heat is lost through the walls and the loft space. Fully insulating these spaces can help reduce the amount of heat lost in the home by more than 50%. The walls alone can be responsible for up to 35% of the total heat wastage in the home. Badly insulated walls can be one of the major sources of heat loss in the home. They could be costing you anywhere up to £200 extra per year. For this reason insulating the walls of your home is one of the most efficient ways to make a saving on your heating bills. If you want to find out what you can do about adding insulation to your walls, the first step is to identify what kind of walls you have in your home. Most houses built after 1930 have cavity walls. To identify whether you have cavity walls you can check by measuring their thickness at a door or window. They are normally around 30cm thick, this is comprised of an inner and outer layer, and in-between them is a small air gap. To fill your wall with insulation, small holes are drilled into the outer or inner layer and insulation material is injected into the air gap. This work has to be carried out by a professional, and will be guaranteed for 25 years by the CIGA or Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency. The cost of the work should be recovered within five years in the savings you make on your heating costs. There are also grants and offers available to help cover the cost of the work.

As air gets hotter it becomes less dense, and as a result of this rises above cold air, which is denser. This is the reason why it is key to make sure any heat lost through the roof is minimised. Most houses have some space under the roof, normally the loft. Insulating the loft properly can save around 25% on your heating costs. You can insulate your loft easily yourself, and requires no professional work to be done. By simply adding a 250mm (10-inch) thick layer of insulation the job is done. The material that you need to insulate the roof can easily be picked up at a local DIY store or builder’s merchants.

Drafts coming through the edge of the skirting board or up through the cracks in the floor can make a room feel cold and unwelcoming. Sealing up these cracks with a regular tube sealant can save you up to £10 in your heating bills. To make your floors warmer and to stop the chilly drafts coming up through them you could invest in some under floor insulation, which can help save a further £25. Remember, if you fit the insulation yourself, not to block any air bricks on the outside wall. These help maintain adequate ventilation under the floor, and without this it’s likely that the floorboards will start to rot.

Heat that escapes through the space under your doors or windows also accounts for a considerable amount of heat lost in the home, as much as 20%. Draft excluders come in many different materials, from brushes to rubber strips. Without double-glazing these can be a cheap and easy way to prevent heat escaping from your home. Do remember that in some rooms ventilation is very important, especially if they have solid fuel burners, gas fires or boilers within. Badly insulated hot water pipes and water tanks can result in 75% more energy use than those that are fully insulated. British Standard water tank “jackets” can be found at all good DIY stores and are easy to fit. The saving you make on your water heating bills means the cost can be recouped within a year. If you already have insulation on your water tank check that its at least 75mm (3 inches) thick. If it isn’t it could be a good idea to replace it with a new one to make yours as energy efficient as it can be. For further information on improving insulation you can get in touch with your local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre. If you don’t know where this is you can phone 0845 727 7200 or search on the Energy Savings Trust website at www.saveenergy.co.uk.

GLAZING

Double-glazing your windows is an ideal way to reduce heat loss in the home by up to 20%. Whilst it is an expensive option, it should definitely be considered if you are planning on renovating your window frames. Not only does double (or even triple-) glazing help prevent heat loss but can also stop condensation and reduce noise levels of sounds from outside. If you are on a tight budget you can always fit secondary glazing, which is less expensive than fitting brand new double-glazing and can still result in annual savings of around £30.

QUICK ENERGY SAVING TIPS TO PUT INTO ACTION TODAY!

  • If you are too warm at home, turn down your thermostat by 1°C. This could save you up to 10% on your heating bill. If you are planning to go away over the winter for any extended period of time, turn the thermostat down to a low level. You can turn it down as far as you want, but be sure to leave it high enough so the house doesn’t freeze. Your total saving could be as much as £30 a year.
  • There is no need to have the hot water come out of your taps at scalding temperatures. For most people a setting of 60°C/140°F on their cylinder thermostat will be more than enough for taking baths and washing-up. Doing this can save you as much as £10 a year.
  • Never leave the taps running and the plughole unblocked. If you are washing up or using hot water, try not to do it with the plughole open. The cost for hot water can soon mount up and leaving the plughole open can flush money away with the wastewater.
  • Always close your curtains in the evening. Your curtains are a valuable form of insulation. If you close your curtains you can stop extra heat escaping out through the window into the cold night air.
  • Try not to use electric lights when there is a good source of natural light available. Open your curtains or blinds fully rather than switch on an electric light. If you do use an electric light make sure you remember to switch it off when you leave the room.
  • Electrical devices such as Television and Computers consume almost as much electricity in their standby mode as when switched on. Try to switch off all devices of this nature if you can. Obviously if this will have an effect on the appliance’s memory settings then leaving it on standby can be unavoidable’ so check the appliance’s manual before you switch it off.
  • Defrosting your fridge and freezer can help it run more efficiently; try to do this as often as possible. Also try not to leave the fridge or freezer door open for more than a few seconds as the cold air will escape, meaning the appliance will have to work harder to cool the air inside down again when you do close the door.
  • It’s important to try to make sure you run a full load in your washing machine and tumble dryer. If this is impossible, use the economy wash settings or run at a low heat. Modern washing powders will work just as effectively at 40°C as at 60°C. These rules can apply to dishwashers too; try to run a full load every time and use the lowest temperature setting available.
  • When cooking try to use the best pot or pan available for the job, and match this with the right cooking ring. Ideally the base of the pot should just cover the edges of the ring. If you are using a gas hob the flames should only heat the bottom of the pot, any flames that rise up the sides of the pot will be wasted heat.
  • When boiling water in a kettle, there is no need to fill it all the way to the top if you are not going to use all the water. Fill the kettle with enough water to cover the element, but not more than you plan to use.
  • A tap left dripping for a day can waste as much water as it would take to run a good sized bath. This is needless waste, especially if the water is hot. Make sure you firmly close all taps when you have finished with them.
  • If you are used to taking baths, consider switching to a shower. An ordinary shower uses less than a half of the water that a bath does. You can easily buy devices that convert your bath taps into a shower.

 

 
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