With colder days and nights rolling ever closer, many families across the UK will be watching their energy usage with extra interest over the coming months. Why? Well, analyst experts Cornwall Insight’s forecast for the future of the energy price cap are still not looking brilliant for struggling families and their finances. So, what is the energy price guarantee* and how does it look like it may impact many in the UK?
Many of you will be aware that the UK government introduced the energy price guarantee on energy in order to limit the rate of energy costs per kilowatt hour that users were exposed to. This is not a maximum limit on the actual bill – just the rate at which the energy is charged per unit. Families should still be mindful of their usage and ways to reduce it, possibly by considering the tips we’ll mention later in the article.
How to take stock of energy consumption in your home
We’ve seen from our recent reader’s poll on social media that energy usage and associated costs and direct debit bills vary wildly from home to home.
Some readers have told us that they reside in new build properties that have shielded them from temperature fluctuations over the last few years due to the increased energy efficiency of their homes in comparison to some older properties. For example, we had two readers comment on the fact they’re in 4-bed properties. Both remarked on how their energy bills roughly tripled, despite one home being a newer build. Readers also told us about the concerns of having a conservatory with bad thermal transfer levels and how the polycarbonate roofing or the lack of insulated roof panels might impact on their energy costs.
One reader poll respondent said:
“We’re a 4-bed detached. Our Gas & Electricity [which] was always £65, crept up over the last year peaking at £131 but they’ve now lowered it back to £89 now. The main bonus is our house is [a] relatively new build so comes with the top-level energy rating. Works wonders for us in the winter, the heating doesn’t work too hard, but being so well-insulated means in a summer like the one we just had…we melt! No heat escapes…for days after the temperature drops too! 🥵“
A similar picture to:
“We live in a 4-bed semi and there are two of us at home. Our bills appear to have tripled in recent weeks. We recently had a smart meter installed, so it has been a real eye-opener! We’ve noticed that there’s a real difference between weekdays, when we’re out, and when we’re home. We’re not using the dishwasher as much and we’ve also found that the air fryer is much more efficient when cooking.”
Despite readers’ situations and setups varying, most seemed to recognise that their bills seemed to be coming in at around 2.5x – 3x more than they were a year ago. They also spoke about their interest in having smart meters installed and taking more of an active role in analysing their energy data via apps and energy monitoring tech.
Reading electric meters and smart monitors.
Across the UK there will be a mixture of those on standard electricity meters, smart meters and pre-payment meters. All of these work in slightly different ways. Regardless of the meter type, the UK government has offered support via the household energy bill. This is a £400 payment spread out from October 2022 until March 2023. This is already factored into the Cornwall Insight analyst predictions mentioned at the start of this article when forecasting the annual outlay for the typical household. However, those with low usage could actually see a reduction in the total paid compared to the current rate. Readers should have already started to see £66/£67 payments credited to their electricity accounts and pre-payment customers should contact their suppliers if they’ve had issues finding out about vouchers to use towards their costs.
With many energy companies struggling, readers might find they’re moved between suppliers in order to keep the supply running. However, whatever supplier you’re with, it’s’ well worth looking into the incentives they have for using smart meters. For example, some suppliers like British Gas are working to ensure strained energy infrastructure does not result in restrictions for energy customers. They’re putting in place schemes where customers can be paid well when they switch their usage outside of peak hours. Users will need to look on their suppliers’ websites or contact them directly to find out what else is on offer for customers.
When it comes to your own consumption (and comparing it to others), most consumption guides you might see are often based on an assumed supply of gas and electricity. If you’re purely on electricity, you can expect your bill to be higher than many estimates you may see quoted. According to Ofgem, the average power consumption of a house* is based on 2.4 people living in it and suggests it uses 2,900 kWh of electricity and 12,000 kWh of gas. This works out to 242 kWh of electricity and 1,000 kWh of gas per month.
Understanding your electricity bill.
Knowing the typical consumption is useful for comparing your own home, but there are so many variables in terms of the efficiencies of each home that understanding your electricity bill* is essential to make sure you fully understand if any energy-saving tweaks or home improvements you make are actually having an impact.
Most suppliers will have a default bill layout. This should feature your opening balance, energy costs (and rates) for the period, adjustments and discounts (such as the £66 household energy bill credit mentioned earlier). There may also be an indication of your projected annual usage and costs. Once you’re familiar with this, you should easily be able to spot issues with faulty smart meter readings and for those without smart meters, it’s essential to submit regular readings in order to get accurate bills and monitor changes you make in your home.
So, talking of making changes to our homes, what are some of the nation’s suggestions for saving money on energy usage this winter?
The Nation’s Energy-Saving Tips
Let’s talk about the changes you can make today to save on energy bills*. We asked our readers to get in contact with us via social media and email and they’ve given us a number of ideas for ways to begin to reduce energy usage in our homes. Some are small, inexpensive changes. Others are larger and more in-depth. Whatever changes you’re considering making though, it’s important to note that if you’re struggling with energy costs to the point where you’re considering going without warm food or heating this winter, please reach out to the Citizens Advice Bureau who will be able to advise you of the support options and grants that may be able to help.
Start small by reading electric meters and using smart monitors.
Many readers have spoken about their newfound understanding of exactly how much energy their appliances and gadgets use in their homes. This is down to the use of energy monitoring plugs, monitors and apps. Many of these devices are inexpensive to source, and if you already have a smart meter, there are plenty of smartphone apps that will analyse your home setup for free. Those with Hive systems, for example, can use the free app to monitor and control their energy usage. This can help you plan what you need to change before making rash decisions.
For example, in our home, we used a smart plug to record the usage of all of our main appliances throughout the week. We narrowed our main electricity usage down to the dishwasher and washing machine. Therefore, we knew to continue to wash our clothes overnight and where possible only put the dishwasher on for full washes.
Interestingly, we’d already overhauled our Victorian-aged property with LED lighting. Whilst there was an initial outlay for this when we upgraded, it’s made a huge difference that we’ve written about in our LED swap challenge.
Many readers mentioned they were uncertain about the best way to work around the costs of running their ovens for meals.
Air fryers have been mentioned by many as being the main way they’ve adjusted their meal prep. Air fryers can be similar (or better) in terms of kilowatts per hour, but they really come into their own when it comes to the speed at which food can be cooked in. Because of this speed, additional savings are made on energy costs. However, before you rush out to buy one, the size of the air fryer may mean catering for larger meals or families is less efficient. A traditional Sunday roast would need individual items to be cooked separately due to space which means that a conventional oven would still potentially be better in terms of both time and energy usage. For smaller families or couples, air fryers and Remoska-style mini ovens are a far more suitable energy-saving switch.
As always, use the internet to research and compare models and prices before shelling out your funds and look into inventive menu planning that can use overnight cooking methods like slow cookers.
Adjusting thermostats, timers and boiler settings to support your needs
Many homes are starting to adopt smart thermostats which adjust to the needs of their family. Some of these can be set to bring the heating on just before you arrive home and support links to individual thermostatic valves on radiators to monitor zones within your home.
Even if you’re not in a position to upgrade to this newer “smart tech”, you can still save money by adjusting your thermostats by a couple of degrees or discussing adjustments that can be made to your boiler while having its annual service.
If you’re adjusting your boiler settings yourself, be careful to follow the instructions within your user manual as whilst it may be tempting to turn settings down, many have a minimum temperature for health and safety reasons.
Adjusting temperatures on appliances is also another suggestion noted in our reader’s energy poll. One of our readers, Annie, suggested:
“I keep the curtains and doors closed to keep the heat in and wear lots of layers of clothing! Everything apart from the internet and the freezer gets switched off at the wall, I’m washing clothes at 20 degrees and only use the dishwasher twice a week.”
Many readers who work from home have also taken to striking up deals with local pubs and coffee shops in order to work on their sites and use their internet and heating while effectively working as digital nomads. With some coffee shops like PRET offering 5 coffees a day at £12.50 per month, it may make sense to work there if you’re city based. I often work in this way when I can and find it’s actually a really pleasant environment to be warm and productive within.
Whilst many of us will find it very tricky this winter, it’s important to take heart from the way the other G7 countries are starting to balance out their economies and therefore be able to support their residents with the raised energy costs. The UK is the only economy still technically not in recovery post-pandemic, but the other six countries have shown that if the government make the right choices in collaboration with the Bank of England, there’s potential to look again at ways of supporting families with the energy costs that remain high.
If you’re struggling with your energy bills, always contact your energy provider to see if they can offer any assistance. They may be able to review your bill and payment plan or have hardship funds available. The British Gas Energy Trust is an independent charitable trust set up to support families and individuals facing financial hardship and fuel poverty across England, Wales and Scotland. There’s help available whether you are a British Gas customer, or with a different supplier.
Disclosure: This post is in conjunction with British Gas, comments are my own except those gained from a poll of Savvy Dad readers’ views on energy usage.