Personal energy use

Last edited 14 March 2011 at 4:19pm

While the government needs to act to transform our energy and transport systems for a
low carbon future we can all do our bit to reduce our energy demand. Changes
big and small in the way we use electricity, power our vehicles and
heat our homes and businesses cumulatively have a significant impact.

Reducing our energy demand is something that we should be excited about, not scared of. It can save us money (the government estimates that increased efficiency in heating, electricity and transport could save us £12bn in reduced bills), as well as protect our planet.


This is the big one. Heating and hot water accounts for half of our energy use and 40 per cent of our carbon emissions. But according to the Energy Saving Trust, the vast majority of our homes are inadequately insulated. When you consider that a massive 83 per cent of domestic energy is used for heat, this clearly has to change.

Thermographic image of heat loss. © Greenpeace.

Properly insulating buildings can often be cheaply and easily remedied - and has an enormous impact; as much as a third of heat lost from homes escapes through the walls. In 2006, over 9 million homes with cavity walls had no insulation. Today that figure is around 7 million and falling. We’ve made a start - but there’s much more we can do.

Another quarter of lost heat is wasted through the lack of loft insulation. Fixing this would also be cheap, simple, and extremely effective.

Saying goodbye to standby

In 2010 for the first time, consumer electronics (a catch all phrase covering computers, home entertainment systems and general gadgetry) became the single biggest user of domestic electricity – overtaking lighting and major appliances.

While washing machines and fridge-freezers are becoming more energy efficient, the more sophisticated and ‘higher-spec’ gadgets use more electricity than the products they replace.

And we have more of them than ever: multiple TVs and DVD players, phones, radios, scanners, routers, computers and digital cameras. By 2020, it’s estimated that these information, communication and entertainment (ICE) products will account for around 45 per cent of home electricity use.

The key to saving energy and money as far as ICE products are concerned is simple – switch them off when you are not using them.

Appliances on standby account for eight per cent of electricity used in the home. Doing so, would save around £40 a year for each household, and make CO2 emission reductions equivalent to taking 1.5 million cars off our roads every year. 

It's possible to design appliances without standby, or to engineer them to consume the minimum amount of power while in standby mode but until that legislation is introduced, it's down to us.

Light bulbs

Energy efficient light bulb 
© Kate Davison / Greenpeace

Low energy bulbs have always been a bright idea - for your pocket and the environment. They use up to 80 per cent less electricity than a standard bulb, but produce the same amount of light and last far longer. 

Switching over to them in your home saves on average £37 a year, and by saving energy, you'll be helping to fight climate change too.

In 2006 Greenpeace’s ‘Seize the Light’ campaign challenged British retailers to phase out inefficient bulbs and now it’s starting to happen. Already those over 100w are disappearing from our shops, and the rest will follow over the next few years.

Transport – travelling climate consciously

Celebrating the opening of the high-speed rail link from St Pancras to Europe. © Greenpeace / Will Rose

Mobility is one area where personal carbon accounts differ widely, from jetting around the world to walking everywhere, from driving an SUV to taking the train or cycling.

Transport currently accounts for 22 per cent of Britain’s CO2 emissions, so the potential for savings is huge. If you leave your car at home and take a bike to work for example, you can cut your annual CO2 emission by half a ton.

Buses and rail systems are three times more fuel-efficient than private cars. Urban rail systems are the most efficient – and they will be even cleaner in future when they are running on green energy.

If you have to drive – shrink your car! Go for a hybrid or a car that gets 60 mpg – or check out the electric options that will soon be available.

And finally, fly only when you really have to. Increasing air traffic is top of the league when it comes to damaging the climate. Look for alternatives to business trips like phone or video conferencing. On shorter routes, rail travel is quick and much more climate friendly.

Ten ways to save energy

Here are our ten top, easy to accomplish, energy saving tips:

1. Buy only the most energy efficient products you can find.
2. If you're not using it, switch it off.
3. Put a stop to standby energy waste – and save money.
4. Use energy saving light bulbs.
5. Get rid of old energy-guzzling appliances.
6. Take a shower instead of a bath.
7. Don’t use a tumble drier – hang up your washing to dry.
8. Save on laundry – wash at low temperatures.
9. Don’t heat your home more than necessary.
10. If you have a car, leave it at home whenever possible.

If you feel ready for more energy saving challenges, you can find loads of useful tips in our 'How to save the climate’ guide (pdf).

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