Focus On Saving Energy Instead Of Generating It

energy efficiency savings

Governments have relatively small budgets for tackling climate change and it seems like there is a bit of a tug of war going on between renewable energy generation and energy efficiency. Each industry wants a bigger slice of the small pie in order to fund progress, but where should the money go?

I’ve got nothing against funding the growth of the renewable energy sector and, if it were up to me, I’d transfer the vast majority of energy spend this way instead of seeing it go to fracking, other fossil fuel activities, and nuclear. But I have come to my own conclusion recently that the best results would be achieved by pushing a larger budget into energy efficiency.

Just the other day, there was a report released suggesting that the UK economy could benefit to the tune of £62bn if we targeted a 40% reduction in energy use by 2030. But this is not the only reason that I’ve planted my flag in the energy efficiency camp.

My logic comes about because I believe that the public, in general, would be more supportive on government spending in this area. I started thinking this when I had looked at some of the most popular posts I’ve written on this blog. The 4 most viewed articles in the past 12 months have all been related to saving energy and money while enjoying a more comfortable home.

These articles, in order of popularity, are:

  1. My review of Radflek radiator reflector panels
  2. My tips for staying warm in Winter without spending a fortune
  3. My look at some of the water saving shower heads available
  4. My review of the Dreamland Intelliheat mattress protector

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other reasons why these posts have been the most popular ones because there are lots of other factors to consider, but I don’t see it as a coincidence that saving money has been at the core of each of them.

I’ve talked about changing people’s attitudes before and how only thinking of oneself is an issue we have to address, but I now wonder whether we can use these very same self-interested outlooks to our advantage.

The ‘Other’ Green Deal Was A Success

The government has tried to get people investing in their own energy efficiency measures through the Green Deal but the scheme has shown to be lacking in genuine incentives as just 4,000 people have signed up for the pay-as-you-save scheme.

The problem, as far as I see it, is that homeowners do not actually feel like they benefit from the scheme because their energy bills don’t actually go down after the work is carried out. Instead, the savings they make are used to top up their actual energy usage to repay the initial cost of the improvements. Since the payback period is between 10 and 25 years, the homeowner is left waiting a long time before they see a tangible benefit to their personal bottom line.

If you take a look at the other part of the Green Deal, namely the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund, then you see a stark difference. The Government offered up £120 million in rebates for anyone carrying out qualifying work on their home – this included things such as new boilers, double glazing (when replacing single glazing), cavity wall insulation, and even the more expensive solid wall insulation.

Within six weeks they had received over 12,000 applications and £43 million had been given in the form of vouchers. Because of the demand for the scheme, it ran out of money and closed far sooner than expected leaving many disappointed. But the good news is that a second round will begin sometime in November 2014.

So why was there such demand for the second of these Green Deals? Well, the short answer is that it gave people money in their pockets straight away. You could spend £1,000 on floor insulation and receive virtually all of that money back as soon as the work is finished. From that point on, you should be able to save anywhere up to £100 a year on your heating bills.

I’m not suggesting for one minute that the government should fund all of our energy saving home improvements in this way because the country would go bankrupt if it did. However, I would like to see more incentives along the same vein where the monetary benefit to the homeowner is felt much soon after the initial expense.

For instance, everyone in the country should be eligible for a free eco shower head because the amount of energy they save is considerable in comparison to their relatively small cost. One or two water companies already offer these to their customers for free, but I’d like to see all of them do it – the government should force them. There is the side benefit of lowering our demand for water at the same time.

The same goes for hot water tank jackets – if the water companies hand out free water saving products, shouldn’t the energy companies hand out free energy saving products? And how about free LED lightbulbs (I currently have two 3 watt bulbs lighting up my kitchen that were kindly donated by Ultra LEDs)?

I realise that they’ve done it with CFL lightbulbs in the past and were criticised because of the number of bulbs that go to waste. Therefore, I’m only suggesting that things be given away for free when they are asked for – no more random CFL bulbs that you have no use for appearing on your doorstep.

Or maybe the DECC could do this directly. Just imagine how much lower the cost would be if they were ordering 100 million LED bulbs at once instead of having consumers pay a considerable premium over other types of lightbulb like they do now.

There needs to be an independent body (the Energy Saving Trust possibly) who works out the best value for money when it comes to providing energy efficiencies. Of course the large scale stuff such as insulation will always provide great savings, but pound for pound, are there better ways to spend £120 million?

In general, though, I do think that measures to save people money in the short term and not just the long term are the way forward. This is because it is quite difficult to weigh up costs in the present day against larger savings in the future – the present day usually wins because the future is uncertain (I won’t open up the can of worms about how humanity is sleepwalking into a climate crisis because of our inability to think rationally about the future).

Does anyone else agree with my opinion here or can you see a better way to tackle the problem?

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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