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Five ways to use greener energy (without switching energy supplier)

Follow our tips to help cut your electricity and gas carbon footprint

Five ways to use greener energy (without switching energy supplier)

The greenest energy is the energy that you don’t use. To cut our carbon footprints and live more sustainably, reducing our energy use is key. There are also ways to increase the proportion of renewable energy you’re using.

Around 20% of all UK carbon emissions come from home heating and energy use, according to government figures. Gas boilers are a key culprit, as are the gadgets and appliances you use around your home every day.

Cutting your energy use isn’t about shivering in a chilly home (although dropping your thermostat by 1°C can have a big impact on your bill). Making some small changes to your daily routine and home set-up can help reduce the environmental impact of your energy use.

Plus, using less energy will help cut your bills, so it’s really a win-win.

Looking for a more sustainable energy provider? Know the differences between renewable energy companies and check what your provider offers in our energy company reviews.

1. Use more electricity at night

Night sky above a field

Unless you generate your own renewable power, you can’t be sure that the electricity you’re using at home is renewable or low carbon.

The carbon intensity of your electricity depends on several factors including:

  • Where you live (and how close you are to renewable and low-carbon generators)
  • The season and weather
  • The time of day.

These all affect electricity demand and the amount of low-carbon and conventional (gas and coal) generation.

But you can use electricity at times when it’s more likely to be generated from renewables or low-carbon sources.

This is usually at ‘off-peak’ times, or when there’s less demand on the grid for electricity. Often this is at night or in the early hours of the morning.

You can check when electricity has the greatest and least carbon intensity in your region using National Grid’s carbon intensity tool. It’s also available as a free app (look for Carbon Intensity on Google Play or the App Store).

It forecasts four days ahead to help plan your usage (for example, setting gadgets or an electric vehicle to charge overnight). If this sounds like too much effort, you could buy one of its lightbulbs, which glow green when the electricity coming into your home is renewable, so you know it’s a good time to put the dishwasher on.

Changing when you use electricity can also help cut costs if you’re on a tariff that has different rates at different times of day. Economy 7 and Economy 10 are longstanding examples of these, but other suppliers offer time-of-use electricity tariffs.

Find out more about different types of energy deals.

2. Make the most of your own renewable energy

Row of houses with solar panels

Solar panels and heat pumps are a significant investment but, if you have them, make sure that you’re using them as effectively as possible so they have the greatest impact on your carbon footprint.

Solar panels generate most electricity when the sun is shining in summer. Get to know the times your panels are producing most power, so that you can schedule appliances to run only on solar electricity.

Monitor how much electricity your panels produce and make sure that you’re not running more appliances at once than they can power. If this happens, you’ll start to draw in electricity from the grid too.

If you’re not at home to use your solar electricity, consider a home battery so you can store it to use later.

See more tips on using your solar panels efficiently.

3. Use renewable energy sources for heating

Air sources heat pumps outside a house

They’re not for everyone – for one thing they’re incredibly costly to install, and for another, they won’t suit every home. But if you do have the means, then you might want to look into whether a heat pump is a viable alternative when you next come to replace your gas boiler.

Heat pumps draw in naturally occurring heat from the air or ground to heat your home. They use a small amount of electricity to power the pump when used effectively.

While the upcoming Boiler Upgrade Grant will help with costs, they’re still expensive to buy. Plus, you’ll need to make sure your house is suitably insulated for a heat pump to work effectively.

Find out more about air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps.

4. Keep the heat in

Watch: four ways to insulate your home

A well-insulated home will make the most of the heat your gas boiler pumps out.

If your home doesn’t have any insulation yet, start in the loft. Laying loft insulation is relatively straightforward. It’s less pricey than other options (especially if you’re willing to DIY) so it should pay for itself in energy bill savings within a few years.

Find out: how much loft insulation costs, and how much you could save.

The minimum recommended thickness of loft insulation is 270mm. If you don’t have this much, top-up insulation will help keep the heat in and you can simply install it on top of your existing insulation.

Already insulated your loft? Consider these:

  • Cavity wall insulation can make a big difference to heat loss, as around a third of all heat lost from a poorly insulated home escapes through the walls. Find out how much it costs to install cavity wall insulation.
  • Floor insulation can help ground-level floors feel warmer, especially if they’re above an uninsulated space such as a garage. Find out more about floor insulation.
  • Double glazing, compared with single glazing, will help make your home more energy efficient and help with sound-proofing too. See the best type of double glazing for your home.
  • Draught proofing can be quick and easy, and there’s lots you can DIY. Know how to draught proof your home.
  • Hot water tanks should be insulated to keep water warmer for longer. It’s worth insulating hot water pipes too, to reduce heat loss as water flows through them.

To find out where you can make the most cost-effective changes, take a look at your home’s EPC. Find out where to get your EPC and how to read it in our guide to making your home more energy efficient.

5. Sell electricity back to the grid

Electric car charging outside a house

If you have a battery to store solar electricity, or an electric vehicle, you can help balance the National Grid by exporting electricity when demand is high.

If you’ve generated the electricity yourself, or stored it at a time when the grid had lower carbon intensity, then you’ll be adding lower-carbon electricity back to the grid.

Lots of people doing this at a time when there is lots of demand for electricity could help reduce the amount of carbon-intense back-up power that is needed.

Sounds a bit complex? Some companies and energy tariffs will help you get set up to do this and reward you for it financially. For example:

  • Social Energy sells customers solar panel and battery systems so they can use as much renewable electricity as possible and sell any excess to the grid.
  • Tesla is working with Octopus Energy to offer a tariff for customers who have solar panels and a Powerwall battery. It says customers are ‘part of a virtual power plant’ which generates, stores and returns solar energy to the grid at peak times.

You’ll usually need a second-generation smart meter with these tariffs. Some suppliers aren’t giving quotes to new customers at the moment owing to high wholesale prices, so check with the firm first.

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