Energy trap – how to escape reasonably cheaply

After next winter you could have spent over £3,000 on energy. That’s a sickening amount of money gone forever. I have written a lot about some elegant solutions, and indeed, if you have sufficient money you can literally reduce the cost of energy to under 3p/kW.hr instead of the 34p (for electricity) and 10.3p (for gas) we are soon going to bear. However rising prices from all directions are already stretching budgets so a fresh look at some less expensive options is needed.

So what’s the plan?

Stage 1:  We need energy and solar panels are the answer. A modest but useful array of 4kW is going to cost about £5,000. The returns on capital are about 30% so borrowing to do this makes sense. Bimble Solar offers interest free credit so there are definitely ways to get going without producing much cash up front. With electricity heading towards 50p/kW.hr (34p for winter 2022) there is absolutely no question that solar panels make sense and paying off the loan is better value than buying electricity. Solar panels don’t just mitigate your electricity bills, they can form an important part of your heating strategy too. Have a think about adding an ‘Eddi’ or similar to the mix. This channels all surplus energy to your immersion heater. Self consumption is key here – don’t export anything, it’s too valuable to give away cheaply.

Stage 2:  Once you have free daytime electricity you need the magic multiplier to leverage your investment; a heat pump. Although the Government will chip in £5,000 this is a step too far for most people when the total bill could be over twice that when all the connections to the existing system are factored in. But all is not lost. A mini-split (air to air) heat pump doesn’t get the grant but the cost, fully installed, is around £1,200. It doesn’t connect to your wet heating system to heat the whole house but it will provide a core of heat that runs free off your panels during the daylight hours. With one of these suitably sited the existing heating system can be left off for a lot of the time. An added bonus is that you’ll have air-conditioning in the summer too. Typically, these consume about 1kW and produce 3kW and there is a lot of choice to go bigger or smaller. I bought one from Saturn Sales and it works really well. It often consumes less than the rated figure so I wish I had opted for a slightly bigger one. It easily runs for free in the summer sun so the bigger version would provide even better air conditioning. Because the cold air sinks it pools across the whole ground floor; an unexpected bonus.

Stage 3:  You can sign up for an Octopus Go car charging account that will sell you cheap power.  4 hours every night for 7.5p/kW.hr. This is a fixed contract for a year so you can lock in with confidence. They don’t mind what you use it on so the heat pump can bring the house up to temperature in the early hours, night storage heaters can be topped up, the immersion heater can kick in, appliances can run. You need to have an electric car on order at least – with a two year waiting list on some that’s not a problem. Just order one you can’t have now then cancel it later. You never know, you might even be able to flip your new car for a profit when it becomes available. Daytime rates for ‘Go’ are higher which means having solar panels is a good part of this mix.

Stage 4: Cooking with gas and electricity is a big expense and needs addressing with two essential bits of kit. A microwave and a slow cooker. The microwave can cook so cheaply that at current electricity prices it could be just as cheap to buy ready made meals than to cook them yourself. Even cheaper of course is to build up some expertise on microwave cookery. A slow cooker consumes very little power and a hot stew is quick to prepare and always a good winter warmer. If you had solar panels they would trickle charge your meal free of charge. The kettle – to boil a litre twice a day for a year costs around £20 so unfortunately, filling the kettle less won’t save much.

Stage 5: We all know about carrying our heat around with us in the form of a good pullover and the localised heat theme can be extended. An electric blanket on the bed of course but another one under the sofa cushions? If you have read my bit about turning down the thermostat here you might be glad of a localised hotspot.

Stage 6: Elsewhere on this site I have written about forcing your boiler to run in condensing mode. The savings will be in the order of £300- £400. Read about it here.

The choice, before next winter arrives, is to do nothing and watch your money start to erode, or to start taking action at the early stages of this crisis and end up even better off than when it began. To consolidate your ideas check out a deeper discussion on Heating News – Spring 2022

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