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A world without energy bills?

Octopus Energy’s Michael Cottrell reveals how green power and cleantech could put an end to energy bills for good
Completed Zero Bills homes at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex

Main image: Completed Zero Bills homes at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex. Photo credit Ilke Homes

This article first appeared in our World Environment Day Day 2023 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 05 June 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Until recently, energy efficiency hasn’t been much of a concern for would-be homeowners or tenants.

But as two crises have dawned on us – climate and the cost of living – we’ve been forced to reconsider just exactly what it is that makes a house a home.

It’s no secret that the UK has a housing problem; our homes are the oldest and leakiest in Europe.

We need to retrofit nearly all 29 million of them if we’re to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 – that’s the equivalent of 1.8 homes per minute.

When it comes to new-builds, we’re constructing too few homes – to frequently dismal standards.

Energy bills linger as a constant anxiety in the background.

Energy and the housing crisis

Now more than ever, people want homes that are fit for the future – that can protect them against price spikes and a rapidly warming world. The way we consume energy is at the heart of all of this.

Our current system depends on an outdated market built exclusively for fossil fuels – one that’s fuelling inflation and rising interest rates.

Just as our extraction of dirty oil and gas is killing our planet, it also makes us politically vulnerable; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine plunged Europe into the worst cost-of-living crisis it has seen for decades.

But if our energy system is fanning the flames of the UK’s housing crisis, it’s also the key to solving it.

Right now, we’re on the cusp of a green energy revolution that will transform our lives in every way.

How we consume energy on a local level – in our homes – is an important piece of the puzzle.

Taking control of energy

Cleantech is rapidly enabling consumers to take control of their energy use and benefit from lower rates while putting greener energy back on the grid.

When electric vehicles (EVs) are plugged in at home, for instance, consumers have the opportunity to optimise their charging to the very greenest times, and at cheaper rates.

If controlled intelligently, each car can draw its power at different times to flatten demand on the grid.

Like EVs, domestic low-carbon tech – heat pumps, solar panels and home batteries – is growing exponentially.

The real magic happens when you combine these technologies and use smart controls to manage the electricity they import and export.

Zero Bills homes

We’re now working with house-builders to develop what we call ‘Zero Bills’ homes.

Someone who moves into a new-build home kitted out with green hardware (a heat pump, battery and solar) will pay zero energy bills for at least five years – guaranteed.

It works by integrating the low-carbon kit with our tech platform, Kraken, to optimise the power the homes generate and consume, enabling homeowners to import power when it’s cheapest and export it when their solar panels are generating lots of green electrons.

As families move into some of the first Zero Bills homes, we’re working hard to make Zero Bills the new standard – with plans to deliver 10,000 homes across the UK by 2025.

In the midst of a global fossil fuel crisis, this is the best way to demonstrate to people that clean energy is cheap energy.

Green power is cheap power

Zero Bills is a world first – but the truth is, it needn’t be. In fact, it’s perfectly straightforward to build green homes with no bills – because green energy is no longer a premium product.

Today, the price of renewably generated energy is the lowest ever. A green electron from solar or wind is cheaper to produce than a dirty electron.

But the way our energy system works means that the price of the most expensive power determines the price for all, so it’s harder for the cost benefits of green energy to rise to the surface.

The grid that operates today was designed exclusively around fossil fuels, with people in control rooms switching power plants on and off according to whatever energy humans need.

It’s harder to fit renewables into that world, but technology makes it entirely possible.

It’s here right now – and if we act fast, it could save us from the very worst consequences of climate catastrophe while driving down costs for consumers.

Humans can be pretty resistant to change. We’re addicted to burning fossil fuels because we’ve built our world – our homes – around doing it.

But here’s the thing: when the alternative is quicker, easier and cheaper, humans aren’t so resistant to change after all.

That’s what ‘Zero Bills’ is all about. Greener homes aren’t just good for the planet: they’ll end the worry and cost of bills all together.

Now, the rallying call is on developers and architects to build homes which use green tech – and for people to demand them.

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