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Products are more energy efficient, yet household electricity use is going up

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 21 November 2011 at 10:20 am

Despite buying more energy-efficient products than ever before, energy use in the home is on the rise. This is because we are using more gadgets than we used to, and we are using them differently.

In a new report, The Elephant in the Living Room, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) points out that: "with this proliferation of gadgets and gizmos, we need to learn new ways of interacting with them. We leave things on when we don't need to, or on standby 24/7, we leave chargers plugged in all the time; we assume that owning energy-efficient appliances means we don't have to use them carefully or even turn them off."

I like to think I'm reasonable energy efficient, but reading this struck a nerve, and of course it's worryingly true. We've just been away, and with us went carrier bag full of chargers. One each for the phone, laptop (I had to keep writing my blog!), toothbrush, camera, my husband's razor and an iPod. Only 10 years we would probably only have had one of those. And then at home there's the bread maker, the digibox ... I don't want to go on!

EST suggests a number of solutions to this problem. The key ones for us as consumers are:

- Consistent, easy-to-understand labelling, so we can tell which products really do use the least energy in typical everyday use, and as a result will save the most money on our energy bills (more about this in a future blog).

- Simple advice at point of sale to ensure that we can buy the most efficient product for our needs. This will include a way of helping us to understand what the ongoing energy costs of a purchase will be, and how it compares with running costs of competing products.

- An advice campaign, to run alongside the roll-out of smart meters, to educate us about how household energy management can lead to lower energy bills.

It also calls for energy efficiency advice to be regularly vetted and endorsed under a national scheme so that we know that the information we're getting is correct, reliable and consistent.

Another key to reducing energy use (and the subsequent electricity bills) is to not buy things that use electricity unnecessarily. Examples mentioned in the report are "digital picture frames, fibre-optic Christmas trees and other novelty ornamental items". EST suggests that "there is a need to encourage people to stop and think about whether they really need to buy another item that plugs in".

I'd add to that if some information about running costs was prominently displayed on all electrical items, it might help remind us all that while we can't control the price of energy, we can control the amount we use.

The report finishes: "Energy bills are taking a larger chunk out of household expenditure with each passing year. It is now time for householders to take back control of their bills, and stop feeding the elephant in the room." We just need reliable information to help us do just that.

Photo by jimd2007

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