The price of gas and electricity has been increasing sharply on the back of energy shortages. This is mainly due to a squeeze on gas supplies at a time when manufacturing, commuting and socialising have been reviving with the end of lockdowns.
Prices are set to continue to increase this winter, so many of us are expecting to see higher gas and electricity bills, and will be thinking twice before turning up the heating.
In the future, energy production from more local renewable sources could make individual countries less vulnerable to shortages, and we could even cut our reliance on fossil fuels altogether. But we are not quite there yet and our energy is still supplemented with fossil fuels, and will be for some time without serious investment in clean technologies.
In the meantime, there are ways we can cut the amount of energy we use and try and keep our bills a bit lower:
1. Insulating our homes
Easy-to-install loft insulation is still one of the most effective ways of saving energy. A third of heat loss in uninsulated homes is through the walls, and a quarter through the roof. Insulating the loft space can pay for itself many times over once it is in place. For a mid-terrace house, loft insulation typically costs around £285 and the saving on your energy bills per year is £125. So you should save money in your third year. For those with a hot-water tank, using a cover that can be bought for around £20 can save its own cost in around a year.
2. Turning down the heat
Reducing the temperature of a room or shower doesn’t need to be drastic to make a difference. According to the Energy Saving Trust just turning down our heating just 1℃ can save us around £55 a year. We can reduce temperatures and maintain our thermal comfort by putting on an extra layer of clothing to keep our bodies warmer. Avoiding heating a whole space can also be achieved using infrared heaters, providing instant heat so you don’t need to use them as much as traditional electric heaters. They can be set to come on only when spaces are occupied, especially in spaces that are occupied for shorter periods of time, for example the hallway.
Suddenly we are in the middle of a global energy crisis. What happened?
3. Cooking in bulk
Many of us who normally struggle to find time to cook reconnected with our kitchens and home cooking during long lockdown periods. Yet cooking can represent up to 30% of our household energy use. Individual habits, the choice of cooker, even the size of pan can influence the energy intensity of our cooking. For example, using an electric hob every day uses more energy than using a microwave oven.
Cooking more than one meal at a time can help improve the cost-effectiveness of our food preparation. Cooking multiple loaves of bread in a heated oven is better, per loaf, than just baking one. Similarly having shared cooking spaces with other households could be a good way of saving energy, and improving local community interaction.
4. Rethinking spaces
The idea of green communal spaces is well established as being being good for our health and well-being. For people who work and spend a lot of time at home, heating a whole home for one or two people, is clearly less efficient than sharing a space with others. Having shared spaces for working, socialising, and care hubs, or using communal spaces, such as community halls, libraries and community fire-station facilities could be a great way to provide more efficient spaces, while reducing social isolation.
5. Reconsider renewables
If you considered sustainable energy and heating systems like solar panels on your roof in the past and found it too expensive, it may be a good time to revisit them for long-term savings. Rising energy costs coupled with improved reliability, control and advances in storage systems have improved their viability. The price of solar panels has dropped by up to 95% in the decade to 2020.
A move towards a more energy-secure future with less reliance on fossil fuels will protect us from spiking energy prices, but we may also need to change our expectations of energy. We have become addicted to convenient and reliable energy that we have taken for granted, but it is time to transition if we are to make radical energy savings. We need to reshape our societies and behaviours too and rethink how we use energy in our homes and spaces.
Sharon George receives funding from Innovate UK.