At about this time of year I begin to feel a little excited. Some while ago we were fortunate enough to come into some money which meant we could install solar panels on our roof to generate electricity. Not only are they truly wonderful things, they have actually revolutionised how I view the weather and do things around the house. As soon as there’s some sunshine I run around like a mad thing, putting on the washing machine, dishwasher and bread maker and plugging in everything that might possibly need re-charging! And it works: we’ve nearly halved our electricity usage.
The long winter months and the short days are frustrating as there is simply not enough sunshine to go round. But, at this time of the year, I know that things are looking up and can only get better as we head towards the longer days with more hours of sunshine.
Our lives are utterly dependent on energy. Even as I write this I am aware of all the things I have done so far today that have required energy – and I don’t just mean the personal energy required to get me out of bed and functioning properly in the morning! My shower, my breakfast, the radio that I am listening to, this computer… I have not done anything out of the ordinary today and yet I have used a lot of energy. Even the water I am drinking has been through an energy-intensive process to rid it, among other things, of the chemicals put in it by industry and agriculture and from the cleaning products we use.
The society we have created is totally dependent on using large amounts of energy in order to survive. Nearly three-quarters of the energy that is used globally comes from fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) and the rest is from nuclear, hydro and biomass. In the UK, 80% of our energy is from fossil fuels, 16% from nuclear and just 3% from renewables. And yet we know that our energy usage is causing massive problems, from climatic change to resource depletion, from acid rain to the social and ecological abuses linked with oil extraction.
Food and travel are two big areas where we can make changes in order to reduce the amount of energy that we use, and we will look at those in later posts, but it’s also important to consider the energy we use in our homes as, according to the Energy Saving Trust, they account for around 27% of our carbon emissions in the UK.
Not all of us will feel able to afford solar panels: although if you are, I recommend it. The good news though is that one of the most effective things you can do with your house is to focus on cutting down your energy usage in the first place, so none of us need feel that there is nothing we can do.
Here are my top tips:
1. Insulate. There is nothing like good insulation to reduce the amount of energy your home uses. We had our roof done a few years back and it is noticeable on a winter’s morning that our roof stays white whilst the frost on our neighbours’ roofs melts quickly.
2. Turn off. Be aware as you go around the house what things are being left on. There is really no need to leave a light on in a room once you’ve left it. And keep an eye on things that are left on stand-by and turn them off. Even our microwave is turned off at the wall at home. Yes these are little things but they add up when we’re all doing them.
3. Turn down. Whilst we may be looking ahead to the warmer months, it is still cold enough to have the heating on. Try turning it down by 1 degree (or the radiator thermostats down by a number), or programme it to be on for 20 minutes less than it is now and see if you can bear that. Similarly, have your hot water on for less time than you currently have it. Often we have it on for longer than we really need.
4. Switch. One of the biggest changes you can make is to switch to a green energy supplier (Good Energy and Ecotricity are currently the best options). It really needn’t be more expensive and is very easily done.
5. Lighten up. Make sure all your light bulbs are low-energy (LED bulbs are the most efficient, but CFL bulbs are good too) and consider reducing the number of light fittings you use in any one room (I have a friend who has more lights in their kitchen than in our entire house!).