The vast majority of us get our electricity from the National Grid, including those on ‘Green Tariffs’ – if you are lucky enough to be ‘off-grid’ then the bit below does not apply!
It is easy to think of electricity as ‘clean’ energy – yet this is far from the truth. 70% of the UK’s grid electricity comes from carbon sources (coal, gas and oil), 20% comes from nuclear, and 10% from renewables. Because of the large amount of losses and inefficiencies in production, electricity is in fact a dirty, inefficient, and expensive form of energy – 1 kWh of electricity will cost you 15 pence on average, and emit 0.6kg of CO2e into the atmosphere, as opposed to natural gas, which costs 6 pence and emits 0.2kg of CO2e.
Even if you're on a so-called ‘Green Tariff’, your electricity comes from the same grid as everyone elses and is considered the same - it's just that thanks to you the grid isn't as dirty as it would be otherwise!
And beware! Not all Green Tariffs are equal - there are companies like Ecotricity and Good Energy who invest all of their profits back into renewables, and there are companies like the well-known large suppliers who simply pay for carbon off-setting. Make sure you research carefully to check that you're getting everything from your supplier that you think you are.
Whomever you pay for it, grid electricity is over twice as expensive and 3 times dirtier than natural gas – using it for heating is not a good idea! But of course long gone are the days of gas lighting, and for good reason, and so it is well worth doing as much as you can to limit your electricity use – for your pocket and the planet!
The easiest, most cost-effective way to save on your lighting bill is to turn them off! Try and get into the habit of turning them off when you don’t need them, even if only for a minute or two, and only have as many lights on in a room that you need for the activity at hand, with the right type of lighting for that activity – low level lighting for watching the TV or chatting, and a brighter light for working. And remember, the whole room does not need to be lit in order to read a book!
Rather like lighting using a flaming torch, incandescent light bulbs (halogens are incandescents too) basically light through heat – only about 5% of the energy they consume is actually turned into visible light. For this reason, the world is phasing-out incandescent bulbs, and if you’ve not done so already, swap yours for one of the options below and save up to 90% on your lighting bill!
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and Light emitting diodes (LEDs) come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and can now replace all of your old-fashioned bulbs – and as their development continues they get better and better: CFLs come on immediately without needing to warm up, and the colour and warmth of LED’s is improving year on year.
Replacing all of your halogen spots for LEDs, and everything else with CFLs will cost on average £125 but save you £60 per year – for over the 15 years of their typical lifespan! (EST)
To read more about LEDs, click here.
These are perhaps of most use to commercial property owners, however light sensitive sensors that dim or switch lights off depending on ambient light levels, and motion sensors that switch off lights when no one is around, can also help to cut down on electricity wastage through lighting.
Dimmer switches will save electricity as you dim them, but not the equivalent to the reduction in light – it is better to have different lights with different bulbs for different occasions.
Firstly, ask yourself if that new ‘labour saving’ gadget or increased definition TV is really necessary, does it really improve the quality of your life? The predictions of our future energy usage, and therefore energy production requirement, are based on today’s usage and tendencies, and those are being seriously exaggerated by the trend of people having bigger and bigger fridges in which to hoard un-eaten food before they throw it away, and teles on which to watch other people living their lives...
Secondly, and there’s a theme developing here, turn things off! UK households spend up to £100 a year each powering unnecessary little red LEDs in phone chargers, televisions, or microwave clocks – between everyone all of this adds up to 2 whole power stations worth of electricity and 4 million tonnes of CO2e every year! (EST) Other more recent additions to our homes, such as digi boxes, routers, modems, computers, printers, are also constant low-level power users if left on – and they really don’t need to be!
All electronic products sold within the EU since 2010 must use less than 1 watt standby power, but older gadgets could be using 20 watts or more. The sheer quantity of electronic gizmos is increasing as inefficiency falls, meaning that the amount of standby power we are wasting is still of concern.
For all those ‘cannot live without’ appliances, be sure to buy the most energy efficient that you can, and the smallest that you require – two fridges with the same energy rating will use very different amounts of electricity if one is 200 litres and the other 500! Always look out for the Energy Saving Trust Recommended logo – found out more about the scheme here.
A closer look at some appliances:
Cookers are getting more efficient, although heating a large chamber in order to cook one small pie is never going to be the most efficient use of energy! Ceramic and induction electric hobs have become particularly efficient, and waste less energy than gas hobs (because the heat is more focussed), but remember that the food will require the same amount of energy to cook it whatever the means, and 1kWh of electricity is more costly in every way than 1kWh of gas!
Microwave ovens only use energy to cook your food, and not heat up the space around it and so are more energy efficient than an electric oven.
Dishwashers are a more efficient way of cleaning your dishes than in the sink, both in terms of energy and water usage – but they are hungry things and cost on average £50 a year to run so make sure yours is the most energy efficient.
Fridges, freezers and fridge-freezers are switched on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so it's well worth buying those that are the most energy efficient. An old fridge or freezer, coupled with a dodgy door seal, could be costing you over £100 a year!
Kettles are boiled on average 1,500 times a year in a typical UK household – well worth buying the most efficient you can!
Tumble dryers should really only be used as a last resort when drying clothes outdoors on a washing line or indoors on a rack is not an option. However if that is the case, make sure you get the most efficient you can, and opt for one with a ‘dry enough’ sensor, which switches off the drier once your clothes are dry – you’ll elongate the lifetime of your clothes too!
Heat pump tumble driers recycle the heat from the exhaust back into the drier whilst talking away the water vapour from the air, and are much more efficient to run.
Gas tumble driers are the cheapest and most environmentally friendly option, but generally more expensive and need a gas connection.
Washing machines are also power-hungry blighters, and so get the most efficient that you can, and for the most part only wash at 30° - your sheets, towels, and undies may need a 60° wash on occasion though...
Digital radios have superior sound quality and a far wider range of channels than their analogue equivalents, but generally consume more power – perhaps as much as 5 times more. However the technology is rapidly improving and modern digitals use around 75% less electricity than their older counterparts.
Digital television recorders by nature are likely to be left on all of the time, so make sure you get one with low standby power usage (less than a watt) as well as low on power usage – some boxes use more on standby than others use when on!
Televisions are the most power-hungry of all entertainment appliances, especially as they get bigger and bigger – and the bigger it is, the more power it will consume, regardless of its energy rating, simple! Smaller tele’s are more efficient, and don’t show up all the imperfections and blockiness of TV signals and DVDs - so may actually provide a better viewing experience! Again pay attention to the energy usage when both on and on standby, and turn it off at the wall when you’re not watching.
HD and 3D TV is practically inevitable, but HD TVs use more energy than standard tele’s because of their greater screen pixel density – how about trying to hold on to that standard tele for as long as possible, or at least until HD tele’s have become more efficient?
LED, LCD and plasma screens are the most common forms of flat-screen TV these days, but their energy usage is wildly different – plasma screens are the hungriest, using over three times the energy of a LED tele of the same size. LCD tele’s use only a little more energy than LEDs.
Simple set-top boxes aren’t huge power consumers – 5 watts when on and less than 1 watt on standby, but it all adds up so remember to turn it off!
Computers and all their peripherals typically use up to 15% of household electricity, therefore choosing energy-efficient computer equipment can seriously reduce your energy usage – and remember to turn it off when not in use! You’ll prolong its life too!
Desktops and laptops use a lot of energy when they are in sleep and standby modes, so make sure you buy one with a very good energy rating. With smaller components and screens, laptops typically use 85% less electricity than desktops, so consider one as an alternative.
Printers use more energy than you might think, especially when on but not in use, So always turn them off if you’re not using them, and look for the Energy Saving Trust Recommended label - these printers use 40% less electricity in sleep mode than average new models.
Energy-saving plugs and sockets can come with timers or a single off switch so that you can plug entertainment and computing equipment into them and make it easier for you to switch everything off to reduce standby power – and save the potential £100 per year spent on powering electronic goods left on standby!