True or false?

November 15, 2013 at 9:33 am

With energy prices soaring we are all trying desperately to keep our consumption to a minimum. Many in the UK are officially classified as being in fuel poverty but even those who are not still want to keep their bills as low as humanly possible.

All sorts of tips are bandied about but is it true that painting your radiators black can save money and can leaving your heating on all day really be cheaper than switching it on and off? How do you find out which are the proverbial old wives’ tales and which are worth doing? Martin Lewis of has come to the rescue and published a myth-busting guide.

Here’s what he says:

  • It is probably cheaper to have the heating on only when you need it but many swear by having it on a low temperature all day; this really is a grey area.
  • If you have an electric immersion heater and an Economy 7 tariff it is cheaper to heat your water at night. Otherwise have the water heater on a timer and do not leave it on all day.
  • Gas central heating is cheaper than using electric heaters.
  • Chargers generally use energy when plugged in even though they are not connected to a device (Apple chargers are the one exception).
  • Painting radiators black will not save money although reflective panels placed behind radiators can help. Best of all, though, is to insulate your walls.
  • Keep doors closed in rooms you want to heat.
  • Turn lights off if you are not in the room.
  • Do not leave appliances such as televisions on stand-by.

To read the full guide or ask your own question click here.

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M&S redeems its reputation by offering cheapest deal

August 28, 2013 at 1:31 pm

If any high-street store enjoys a trustworthy reputation it is probably Marks and Spencer. Provider of cosy cardigans and the nation’s underwear needs, the store entered the energy market back in 2008. It was with a degree of incredulity, therefore, that consumers learned in April that M&S had been guilty of mis-selling their energy deals by overstating their competitors’ prices.

To add insult to injury, a whistle-blower revealed that he had deliberately targeted older women who were seen as being more likely to sign on the dotted line. He went on to admit that the only people whom he did not mis-sell to were the “tiny minority” who brought their bills into the store to make a proper comparison or the equally small number of customers who would genuinely save.

After hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, it is good news for M&S that they are now able to redeem their reputation by being recognised as offering the cheapest energy deal on the market. The Fix and Save tariff will cost £1,139 a year and, as the name suggests, is a fixed deal up until 30 September 2014.

With energy prices likely to rise this year, M&S’s deal offers peace of mind and good value for consumers worried about their energy costs.

As always, customers are advised to do their sums carefully and to bear in mind the fact that there is an exit fee of £50 payable if they move away from the deal before the end date.

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British Gas may offer free electricity on Saturdays

August 8, 2013 at 8:38 am

If you have ever lived in America, you may have heard of the Free Energy Saturday tariff available to Centrica customers in Texas. The good news is that a similar scheme may be coming to the UK courtesy of British Gas, which is owned by Centrica.

The free electricity will only be available to consumers who have a smart meter (currently only 1 million homes have one), and will not be available until the middle of next year following a trial period that has just started in the UK.

The aim of the scheme is to transfer domestic energy usage to a Saturday when the grid is under less pressure from industry. Why the scheme is not also extended to a Sunday, when presumably commercial energy demands are equally reduced, is not clear, but we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and a good deal on a Saturday is good news for consumers. Or is it?

Reactions to the news have been mixed, with many consumers on internet forums taking the perhaps cynical view that this is a ploy to get the customer to have a smart meter installed which then makes it more difficult to change energy supplier. Others point out that whilst it may be possible to stockpile our dirty washing and do the laundry on a Saturday, it is less easy to change usage patterns on other appliances.

It seems that where the big energy companies are concerned, most of us feel that there is no such thing as a free lunch and see this move as a gimmick to deflect criticism of the profits made by the industry giants and the ever increasing cost of energy.

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Windfall for E.ON customers

July 15, 2013 at 3:43 pm

18,500 E.ON customers are in for a windfall next winter. Some of the supplier’s most vulnerable customers will receive £135 off their bills as a result of an Ofgem ruling.

Energy suppliers were required to meet government targets under the CERT programme (Carbon Emissions Reduction Target). E.ON supplied inaccurate information about the number of energy-saving light bulbs sent out to households in Britain by including in the figure some light bulbs sold in shops in the Republic of Ireland. As a result, Ofgem has imposed a fine of £500,000 on the supplier and agreed that a payment of £2.5 million should be made to vulnerable customers.

Further information on the CERT programme which ended last year can be found on Ofgem’s website. The scheme has been replaced in part by the Green Deal, details of which can be found here.

Sarah Harrison of Ofgem said that the level of the fine reflects the co-operation of Ofgem and their willingness to make up the shortfall for the CERT programme. Without their “constructive engagement”, the fine would have been much higher.

Tony Cocker of E.ON said that no customers were misled but accepted that this did not detract from the fact that an error had been made. More robust processes have been put in place since the error, which was made in 2010.

The customers who will receive the £135 off their bills are those eligible for the Warm Home Discount. For more information on whether or not you are eligible see E.ON’s website.

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New nuclear power station gets approval

March 30, 2013 at 9:04 am

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, has given EDF permission to construct a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. It will be the first new power station in a generation. The last power station to be opened was Sizewell B in 1995.

Two nuclear reactors will be built at the site, and the new power station will replace the current station, which will close in a decade. Davey said that it will “generate vast amounts of clean energy” and will “enhance our energy security” as well as benefiting the local economy.

The two reactors will each produce 1.6GW of power, making the power plant one of the largest in the UK. It is expected to provide power for up to five million homes. It could be the first of many nuclear power plants to be built over the next few years, as older coal and nuclear power plants are replaced.

However, an agreement on the amount of subsidies EDF will receive from the government is still being negotiated. EDF wants a guaranteed amount of money for every megawatt hour it produces during the lifetime of the plant, and the figure being negotiated is thought to be in the region of £100. Discussions are also continuing in relation to how much the company will have to pay for storing the nuclear waste that the plant produces.

As expected, the decision to give the go-ahead to a new generation of nuclear power has its critics. Many environmental groups want to see more focus on renewable energy, claiming that the cost of nuclear power keeps on rising.

However, others are seeing the announcement as a positive step in the UK’s attempts to reduce its carbon footprint and increase energy security.

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Join in the Big Community Switch

March 27, 2013 at 9:06 am

Councils across the country have signed up for a scheme that could save you serious money on your energy bills. It’s super easy to get involved, simply sign up before 8 April at The Big Community Switch.

People across the UK are paying too much for their energy bills despite the competitive, privatised market in the UK. Reasons for not switching suppliers range from a basic lack of information to misplaced fears of interrupted services and a lack of trust in energy suppliers.

The Big Community Switch has managed to get over 50 Councils together for this one auction, the largest number to have ever participated in a collective switching scheme.

The auction will take place on 9 April and a single energy supplier will be chosen from among the leading British companies. Suppliers have been audited beforehand to check that they will be capable of handling so many new customers at once.

You will need to give your name, address, telephone number, email and current usage. Despite all the personal details, signing up is obligation-free. Once the auction has taken place you will be given the opportunity to review the offer before going ahead. If you decide not to proceed, there is no penalty.

Should you choose to go ahead with the switch, there will be no interruption of service and your new supplier will contact the old one to arrange everything.

Renting tenants can also take part in the scheme, as long as they or their partner are named on the energy bills.

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Proportion of disposable income spent on energy bills rocketing

February 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

With the average household’s energy bills having doubled since 2005, it is little wonder that more and more of our disposable income (i.e. income after paying tax) is going on paying our gas and electricity bills.

Recent research carried out by Saga, the over 50s group, showed that the proportion of disposable income spent on energy has increased since 2005 by 55% for the under 50s, 63% for the 50 to 64-year-old age group and 57.5% for the 65s and over.

Many of us are doing our best to save energy by switching off lights when we leave a room, turning the thermostat down, reducing our hot water consumption and using fewer electrical devices, but still we are having to tighten our belts.

If you feel that little is left after bills for a night out, a new outfit or a holiday you will not be surprised to learn that almost a quarter of our disposable income goes on all the boring stuff: utility bills, council tax, fuel and food. On top of this, of course, comes the cost of our mortgage or rent, estimated at around 25 to 30% of disposable income.

With wages failing to keep pace with inflation, many households are having to do without the luxuries and are also trying to cut back on items such as broadband and mobile phone costs.

The bad news is that, according to a report by the consumer group [ Which?] published last year, the proportion of disposable income spent on bills will continue to increase for at least another 18 years.

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Liquid air could be good way to store energy

November 2, 2012 at 10:00 am

Storing energy is one of the biggest challenges that the renewable energy industry faces. However, one potential solution has been highlighted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and it comes in the form of liquid gas.

One of the problems with renewable energy sources like wind turbines is that energy is often produced when it is not needed, such as during the night. The challenge is to capture this energy, store it away, and then use it when it is needed without losing too much of the energy in the process.

A BBC article recently highlighted a potential solution being suggested by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers that involves the cooling of air to a liquid form as a way of storing energy.

The technology was originally developed by inventor Peter Dearman who lives in Hertfordshire. A company, Highview Power Storage, was later set up to trial a new system and it is funded in part by the government.

The process involves using electricity produced at the wrong time to gather air, from which the water vapour and CO2 are removed. It is then cooled to -190C, at which point it turns to liquid and can be stored. It is contained within a vacuum sack until it is required, when it is then warmed up. As the gas expands it drives the turbine, which produces the power.

Although it is only 25% efficient on its own, when the generator is placed next to an industrial plant where heat is produced, it can use this heat to make the process more efficient. Experts suggest that it could actually have an efficiency of 70% in the future.

Although this is not quite as efficient as current batteries, the benefits are that it is long lasting, is easy to maintain and only uses standard components, all of which make it a potentially attractive option that we may see more of in the future.

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Irish wind farms could generate electricity for UK

October 18, 2012 at 10:51 am

Wind power is being seen as one of the potential ways to help to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and enable the UK to reach its renewables target. However, it has been faced with a number of problems including the expense of producing offshore wind and complaints in rural areas due to unsightly wind turbines.

Now, however, another solution has been proposed: to outsource the production of electricity from wind turbines to Ireland.

The proposal has been made by the American company Element Power, which is calling the project ‘Greenwire’. The proposal is to build wind farms in the Bog of Allen in Ireland and transport the electricity back to the UK underneath the Irish Sea in two large cables.

The project would involve the construction of 700 wind turbines, which could lead to the production of 3GW of electricity (enough to power three million homes) and create thousands of jobs at the same time. If it goes ahead, it could begin to generate power by 2018.

The proposal has a budget of £5bn, but it could save £7bn over 15 years due to the cheaper costs of onshore wind power compared to offshore power.

Executives from Element Power have stated that the plan already has the support of the Irish government. However, it is far from being finalised and there are still reservations about the UK providing subsidies to a project outside the country.

Mike O’Neill is the president of Element Power and said that he thinks it will be easier to get planning permission for the wind farms in Ireland as long as it is done “in a sensible and sensitive way”.

It seems as if there is a long way to go before any decisions are made, but it is certainly an interesting option that could solve a number of issues for the government.

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Electricity bills to go up, but National Grid says it is not enough

July 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

Ofgem has stated that it wants energy firms to invest £22 billion over the next eight years, to upgrade gas and electricity networks across the UK. The investment is going to be funded by increased energy bills, but National Grid has now said that the increases which have been proposed are not enough.

Hard-up energy customers will not like the sound of that, as some people are already struggling to pay their bills. But the improvements are essential and the only way to fund them is through increased bills.

At the moment, Ofgem has stated that bills will go up £7 in 2013 and £15 in 2021, but National Grid says this is 20% short of its estimates if the work on the networks is to be completed.

The essential investments are needed to improve the networks and to avoid failing to hit environmental targets. The chairman of Ofgem, Lord Mogg, said that “Britain faces an unprecedented need to invest to replace ageing infrastructure, meet environmental targets and deliver secure supplies.”

£15 billion of the £22 billion will go towards improving the electricity network in England and Wales and the gas network in the whole of the UK, and the remaining £7 billion will go towards the networks which transport gas to people’s homes.

However, energy companies wanted £21 billion for the electricity transmission system and £9 billion for the gas pipelines.

Ofgem says that the investment could lead to the creation of 7,000 new jobs, and it will also help to secure the energy supply of Britain.

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