This article first appeared in our Women: time for action issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 02 July 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
There is a growing appreciation for the things we can do as individuals to reduce our impact on the planet.
Use low-energy lightbulbs; turn off the TV; reduce, reuse, recycle; walk more; eat less meat; fly less; drive less – and if you
do drive, switch to an electric vehicle.
But with space heating and hot water representing more than 80% of home energy use, we really need to talk about heating.
This is a complicated topic, so Fully Charged is creating a six-part Home Energy series that will be released this summer. If you can’t wait, Fully Charged’s Dan Caesar has shared his top tips to get you started.
1. ENERGY USAGE
As the saying goes, the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use. You do not need a smart meter to tell you that you are wasting energy. We could all turn the heating down a degree or two, but what about your appliances?
‘Vampire’ appliances suck energy, even in standby mode, and create something called ‘phantom load’. It varies from house to house, but this could be 10 20% of your electricity consumption.
Buying ‘smart wifi plugs’ that switch your devices off overnight would be a good start.
2. ENERGY EFFICIENCY
The UK has the ‘leakiest’ properties in Europe, making them some of the most expensive to heat. This means that, in many cases,
improving the insulation of your home will make a difference.
Most of us don’t have access to a thermal imaging camera, but if you could see the leaks you might be shocked by the amount (and cost) of energy that is escaping your property.
Some houses are better suited to insulation than others; the main types to consider include loft insulation, internal wall insulation and external wall insulation.
3. SMART THERMOSTAT
Thermostats – or thermostatic radiator valves – are the unsung heroes of energy management. After all, why heat a house if you’re not in it – and why heat rooms when you’re not using them?
The latest wifi-enabled smart thermostats are a real step up, and they are relatively straightforward to self-install. Features like multi-room sensors, open window detection and weather adaptation can all add up to make a significant difference.
4. ENERGY TARIFF
On its own, switching your energy tariff might not save you money – but it can make a marked difference to your carbon footprint. Choosing a ‘renewable energy’ tariff can also send a strong signal to the market to deploy more wind and solar power, plus energy storage and other technological advancements.
There are some smart energy suppliers available in the UK, including those that turn bills into windmills and others that are accelerating cheaper tariffs. A few of these firms are doing much less to decarbonise the energy system than others, so don’t be afraid to ask.
5. THERMAL STORAGE
Hot water tanks are a great way to store energy, but in the UK we haven’t just taken them for granted – in many cases we’ve ripped them out.
Smart hot water systems are making a comeback, alongside some excellent space-saving alternatives to water tanks. One example is thermal energy storage technology that uses long-lasting and reliable ‘phase change’ materials.
6. AERATED SHOWER HEADS
When it comes to hot water, the bath is a real resource sink – but showers use lots of water, too. Water that you have to pay to heat up. There is a simple and cost-effective solution: install an aerated shower head and you’ll use significantly less water without compromising the power of your shower.
7. SOLAR ELECTRICITY & SOLAR HEAT
Around a million UK homes have solar photovoltaics (PV), but installations slowed when schemes like the feed-in tariff stopped. For those looking to generate their own power (and store it in a home battery), solar remains an excellent option.
Increasingly aesthetically pleasing solar roof products are becoming available, and solar thermal remains a less popular but equally interesting technology. It helps provide hot water in particular, and is still eligible for the UK’s Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
8. HEAT PUMPS
Heat pumps are the logical successor to gas boilers; despite being the technology of choice in Scandinavia and much of Europe, their UK deployment is in its infancy.
It pays to have an MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) installer size up your property, but as a rudimentary rule of thumb, an air-source heat pump is probably best suited to a smaller property, while a ground-source heat pump generally suits properties with more outside
The catch? Heat pumps – currently the best options – are the most expensive, too.
9. NEW ZERO-EMISSIONS TECHNOLOGIES
Heat pumps are typically three to four times more efficient than any other heating technology, but they might not be a good fit for your property – or your budget.
Other options include electric heating or infrared heating, but we are particularly enthusiastic about a number of ‘zero-emission boilers’ that are currently being developed.
We will cover two of these ground-breaking technologies in our Home Energy series this summer, and they do offer some distinct advantages over heat pumps – not least the ease of installation.
10. ELECTRIC VEHICLE-TO-GRID
You might not have an electric car just yet, but we would be surprised if, by the end of the decade, you haven’t fallen in love with the transformation electrification brings.
When that time comes, it should be possible to tap into the power of vehicle-to-grid. Having a battery on your drive could enable you to store up on cheaper electricity and use it at a moment’s notice.