Sustainability Month: How not to waste electricity

Kya deLongchamps fights on in our Sustainability Month with an empowering attack on our blithe waste of electricity.

INVESTING in our homes’ energy performance has to become as important to us as architecture and aesthetics. Energy-efficiency and sustainable changes should be seen as a portion of determined, annual home improvements. We can get to a low-carbon lifestyle in manageable, phased changes — in just the same way as we would plan to paint the exterior of the house, or in time, to add a conservatory, upgrade the car or tile the hall.

Although we can’t yet fully quantify the impact of new passive and even passive+ housing moving virtually off-grid, a bad BER ratings on the specs’ of energy-hungry houses are certain to bite back. We’ll throw more light on one of the bigger investments towards a Near Zero Energy Home (nZEB) — PV, making your own electricity with photovoltaic panels, in next week’s DIY@Home. See my short edit, if you simply can’t wait.

For now, let’s deal with the single, biggest problem, one likely to sabotage even major energy-saving investments — you. We are habitual wastrels when it comes to power usage. Any technology is only as good as the hands that hold it, so let’s tighten up some of that mindless, bad behaviour. Many changes require zero or low-capital input. Some ask for just a simple shift in thinking -- engagement.

The accepted “average” for power use in an Irish home is 4200kWh (CRU), around €1000-€1050 including standing charges, PSO and VAT. If you’re heating with electricity, this figure will be wildly increased in winter unless you have rebooted to infra-red technology (IR) or have a well-commissioned heat-pump system. Despite the volatility of the global energy market, electricity use is low-hanging fruit when it comes to saving money and reducing your carbon bleed.

Running costs: I’m now going to ruin your breakfast by telling you just what that luxuriant daily 7.5kWh electric shower demanded by a single teen costs over a year (using 18c per kWh unit plus the 13.5% VAT rounded to a meagre estimate of 21c per kW). Fifteen minutes is a financial wash at about 38c or €142.35 pa.

A penitential 10 minutes is just 26c or €94.90pa, and a suffering five minutes comes in at just under 13c or just under €47pa. That’s a potential saving of over €95 a year per irritated but clean kid, with an in-shower timer and some parental shrieking through the door for motivation.

These easy calculations are part of being fully engaged with the patterns of your electricity usage. Here’s a useful appliance running cost calculator to get started -- all you need is your appliance’s kW and the current unit price for your power: www.sust-it.net/energy-calculator.php?tariff=24.

Laundry: Fill your machine for every run and use a 30C/40C cycle for your regular washing. While the odd 60C may be needed to deal with filthy grime, on the whole you can save around 30% of a hot wash just by washing full drums close to cold with the correct detergents. When replacing your dryer, the only way to beat this kilowatt-demolishing monster is to invest about twice the ticket price of a C-rated vented machine in a heat-pump dryer (€500-€600).

Otherwise, it’s a case of drying outside (one of my oddly favourite meditative moments) or at least finishing barely damp loads on the line. A “B/C”-rated vented 8kg condenser dryer run three times a week will cost in the area of €100pa to run, whereas an A++ machine can achieve €42pa.

No more estimates: Don’t leave your supplier to estimate your bi-monthly bill from an averaged meter reading. If they base your numbers on your last bill it could be either underestimated or overestimated, which could flip the bill generally at a time you can least afford to pay more. Remember to opt for direct debits and online billing when you change suppliers – generally worth a good discount.

Going smart: Digital, smart meters that will send your readings directly to the supplier and to your phone or device will be rolled out by ESB Networks from the autumn of this year. This free upgrade will allow to monitor your consumption in real time. Smart meters will also usher in new programs like ‘time-of-use tariffs’, a highly anticipated new product from the network with off-peak discounts.

You can make a case for an early installation of the ESB smart meter. Read more here: esbnetworks.ie/existing-connection/meters-readings/smart-meter-upgrade. If you want to fill the void before installation, clip devices including the Owl and the Energenie MiHome from around €50 are available online for iOS and Android tablets, smartphones and web browsers.

Lighting: A surprising 15% of your electricity bill, lighting should at this point be delivered by Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Even then, watch your behavior. Turn off lights in rooms you are not in, switch to solar lamps outdoors.

As your halogen bulbs fail (bar desk lamps and floodlight units), they will be replaced with more efficient LEDs, saving you as much as €100 over the lifetime of the unit (20 years). Energy intense halogen was banned for sale in September of last year.

Solar Butterfly lights, lights4fun.co.uk.
Solar Butterfly lights, lights4fun.co.uk.

Vampire mode: Avoid the discreet electronic energy “vampires” of standby mode. Plug multiple devices into a strip plug and switch it off at the end of the day. True energy minimalists even turn off the microwave, despite that handy kitchen clock!

Switching tariff: NightSaver electricity is the only available product that cuts daytime unit prices in half. It’s a tightly schedule pattern of usage from 12pm- 9am in late March to late October (summer) and 11am to 8am from late October to late March (winter). If you can use appliances at these hours and set a timer for early morning water heating, NightSaver is well worth consideration. It requires a change of meter — free.

There is a loading of €50-€60pa (urban/rural) on your standing charges and slightly higher daytime unit prices. It’s vital to move at least 25% of your KWh usage, about 3 units (showers/large appliances/hot water heating) to early morning/night time routines to make NightSaver practical, electricireland.ie.

Switching supplier: A rhesus monkey can do this — and it’s completely free. Just tap out a search for the unit price for electricity on your device, and you’ll find a significant difference between the power deals of one supplier and another — this can be as much as 2c per kWh. Bundling your bill with gas (natural gas) can save you even more. Switching supplier annually should be part of your calendared behaviour. If you haven’t switched in a year? You are paying more than you need per unit of power.

Dig out your MPRN on any electricity bill (plus your GPRN if you have natural gas) and check any contract exit fee with your current supplier (your potential savings switching may outstrip the exit fee). Prepare for online billing and a direct debit (often worth a 0.5% saving) and start shopping at any switching portal accredited by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, cru.ie.

Intelligent control: Any device or appliance involving heating or with moving mechanical parts will be at the top of league table for running costs. Short blasts of usage (three-five minute showers for example/timing the immersion use) are key. If the wait for an ESB Networks smart meter doesn’t satisfy, there are 36-month Smarter Home Control & Smarter Home Comfort offers from Electric Ireland.

Turn appliances on and off from your phone, set schedules for your hall lamp, get your next bill forecast and learn how much electricity your home used yesterday — all for €3.99 a month. The Smart Immersion control is another €2.99 a month. Smarter Home Comfort adds a Nest or Climote home-heating control for €7.99.

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