Fighting Energy Costs – my journey

A big part of retiring early is reducing running costs. When you are working, and assuming you a living a little below your means, there’s no great incentive to save energy usage, and indeed there are a lot of things about working that mitigate against saving energy. You are usually cash-rich and time poor, and much about saving energy is time consuming.

And yet it is a parasitic cost which is worth attacking, and attack it I have done. My total power bill was at a peak of £1030 in 2007 and 2008 and by attacking my electricity usage I have brought down my usage to about 1/4 of what it was in the early 2000s. I am trying to do the same to my gas bill by substituting the use of a log burner for heating but this is a much harder fight. I haven’t been helped by the fact that the last couple of winters have been quite cold. My combined power bill was £650 for 2010 (gas + electricity)

Bringing down electricity usage is more complex – there are a lot more things connected to the AC mains than there are connected to the gas. I live in a very average three-bed semi of 1960s construction, and I have gas central heating with a boiler that’s over 15 years old and a reasonably modern all gas cooker, hob and oven. That’s it for gas usage.

My gas costs and usage

The low start is because I haven’t got all the data for 2003. Although I have managed to push down gas usage over the years since 2004, the cost of gas has sky rocketed, it has almost tripled since 2003. This sort of headwind is likely to continue in future, and is a major hazard for my annual running costs because a) I haven’t had much success getting it down and b) gas is by far the largest financial component of my power bill.

On the electricity front I have had a lot more success

My electricity costs and usage

Most of the success has been in driving down consumption which has paid handsome dividends, to the point that most of my focus in this area needs to go on the gas bill.

As far as the actual unit costs of power are concerned, there has been a steady increase, reversed in the last year when I switched from using two different suppliers to getting both from EDF. You usually save by taking both from one supplier, but extablishing how much is deliberately made fiendishly complicated. The companies effectively work as a cartel, obfuscating what should be a pretty simple calculation using all sorts of exceptions, such as a standing charge hidden in a higher price for the first few units, promotions for direct debit and attempts to lock customers in to a tariff for extended periods, charging them a switching fee. I was offered a 2% discount by EDF to switch to a lock-in tariff for 18 months. I passed, on the general principle that what’s good for them isn’t likely to be good for me. They’ll probably jack prices up by more than the norm in the next few months, so I’ll pass on the switching fee, thanks. If they’re good boys and girls then I won’t take the sucker punch and lose £13 a year. I’ll take the risk of eating the loss to avoid taking the switching fee of four times that if they aren’t the nice guys they pretend to be.

Electricity and gas per unit (=1kWh) costs

I regard my usage as careful, but not hair-shirt. It takes some effort to achieve, but is not unreasonable for a couple in a three-bed semi. We don’t wear coats indoors in winter or use torches in the dark, but on the other hand we don’t run a hot tub or 10 halogen lamps in the kitchen and bathroom just because they look nice. Don’t get me wrong, halogen lamps do look very nice indeed and a lot better than those awful CFL things. I use regular light bulbs in the bog and for reading, except for a couple of LED lamps for reading lamps.

The average utility bills for guys in the office I work with are much higher – two of them are running £2500 and anther is £1500. However, they do all live in larger, and in the two £2500 cases very poorly designed from a heat POV older properties. I haven’t managed to track down the average utility bill for the UK but I think I am on the right track at £650. However, that gas bill is a future liability and needs to come down at some point…

Glad you got the electricity figures sorted. This random site gives a summary of domestic energy usage in the UK:

http://www.carbonindependent.org/sources_home_energy.htm

but I can’t vouch for its accuracy, of course.

You are doing very well on gas (11 MWh approx?), as I’ve noted before, whereas mine is horrible at about 22-24 MWh – more work to do on insulation (I have a fairly new condensing boiler). However, the average is reckoned to be 18 MWh and that must include flats and small houses, so I don’t feel too bad.

According to

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1574539/Average-energy-bill-to-hit-1000-a-year.html

it seems you are already well below average at £650 for total energy costs. I’ve just switched to British Gas who have set my DDs to total £1044 in the coming year (reduced from EDF’s £1200). I’m reasonably pleased with that but fear, like you, what the future will hold.

I do remember, about a dozen years ago, noting that my total was about £600 p.a. which suggests an average yearly increase of about 6%.

@SG that’s quite an interesting site. I’ve added a section summarising the changes in unit costs. Your usage isn’t too outrageous if the average consumption per meter is 18MWh, as you say there are plenty of flats which hopefully lower the average. The Telegraph article seems to indicate a big jump in average power bills in 2005/6 of about 50% in that year alone!

Gas is the next target, in asmuch as we are trying to use the wood burner to push that down. I don’t pay for wood as having some land means I can stash heaps of it scrounged off tree surgeons and people around to season which would otherwise make an impractical right mess in my (small) garden. Our aim is to use the gas CH to heat water and warm the house in the morning and use the log burner in the afternoon/evening.

However, the results aren’t that great inasmuch as I’ve had the log burner since 2008, though it is only last year that we’ve tried to attack this in earnest, and 2010′s bill probably has a hangover from the cold 2009 and the cold end of last year. The figures indicate we’ve lost the fight…

DIY wood is also not that sustainable looking to the very long term future as I get older. I’d like to be fit enough to heft an axe in 20 or 30 years’ time but it isn’t something that can be guaranteed :(

One of the best investments I’ve made recently (well, 18 months ago, now…) was extra loft insulation. It has made a big difference to my gas usage. My place is a bungalow, so a higher-than-average ratio of roof area to volume. I also track meter readings regularly (once a week, unless I forget or it’s too cold to go out to the garage ;-) ) And of course I have a massive spreadsheet full of data now.

My rolling 12 month consumption of gas is now under 4800kWh and electricity about 750kWh, with total bills – I expect – to come under £450. I sometimes wonder how people manage to spend sums like £2500 on energy bills… I guess not having a TV is a great help with my electricity bill, but on the other hand, I reckon about half of my juice gets sucked up by the computer.

I recently switched gas supplier to Ebico, as I like their tariff with no standing charges. That means I pay in direct proportion to what I use. Not only makes the sums easier, it’s also a better incentive for efficiency.

I keep yearning for a wood-burner, though the initial costs are a bit daunting, given that I don’t know what modifications I’ll need to do (modern chimneys…), but quite a small one (say 4-5kW) should cover my peak heating needs. That would leave gas only having to carry HW and cooking.

My summer load is about 3kWh/day gas, and 1kWh/day electricity – well within the reach of modest solar installations. If only my roof wasn’t 90 degrees out from the ideal orientation :-(

Hi. Does your logburner have a flat top? If so cut your cooking bills by heating soup, stews etc anything that can be cooked in one pot on the top, like a kettle too…
Acorns…. collect them, dry them and a shovel ful on the fire before bed, will act as a damper and keep the fire in for hours… Good for longterm background heat when you are out maybe?
Oh and during winter… why do you need a fridge switched on… save power by turning it off…
Best Wishes

@Pat yes, we made sure that was the case, and luckily have enough headroom in the fireplace to be able to use it for pots etc. We did get a kettle, but having to book a cup of tea about 30 mins before getting the boiling water gets tiresome, though it is a nice backup solution. It is ace for the casserole option however.

The acorns idea sounds good, we have three big old oak trees so no shortage of the raw materials in Autumn, I’ll give that a go.

Not quite sure about the fridge, though it would save a heck of a lot of electricity. It doesn’t get _that_ brass monkeys in the kitchen in winter though!

Hi. I have a small trivet that solves the waiting time problem for kettles etc.. leave it on the trivet and its almost always hot.
As to the fridge thing…
Take a long lok at the way you eat, what you eat and what you store in the fridge that really shouldnt be there..
Lots of people will find eggs… shouldnt be there, veggies… same again, cheese, same again.. jams pickles etc… tons of opened jars of thins and that… why? Why have more than one jar of jam open at a time… kept sensibly in a cupboard one jar of jam will last long enough to be eaten…
If you have opened packets of ham or other stuff in packets long enough to have to store it in a fridge… then you either bought too much or didnt really want it to start with…
Hhehehe its a different mind set and way of eating… saves a fortune on wasted food and power…

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