This Earth Day, we have partnered with Tech Journalist and environmental issues advocate, James O’Malley, to help unpack some of the “tech savvy” choices that we could all personally make today (and in the future), to help reduce our carbon footprint.
We know that in the next couple of decades, we need to transform our planet into one that is powered by renewable energy, and one which uses that energy more efficiently. And that includes our homes. This might sound hard, but brilliantly, there are now affordable technologies out there that can help you reduce your home’s carbon footprint. And even better, they might save you a few quid too.
So, here’s my three steps to a green home and more money in your wallet.
1. Make your home smarter
The easiest step you can take is to use the energy in your house more efficiently. This means switching off the lights when you leave the room and turning down the thermostat when you can. But I admit, this is annoying to do - which is why to help me behave responsibly, I’ve taken advantage of some “smart home” technology to help me do it.
For example, swapping out light bulbs for smart bulbs will help you ensure the lights are only switched on when they need to be - no need to run back upstairs to switch off the lights. And a smart thermostat will not just always ensure your home is the perfect temperature, but you can even programme most models to switch off automatically if it detects you have left the house.
You can even pair smart lights with motion sensors, so that they only switch on when someone is in the room. I’ve programmed my lights to only switch on to 30% brightness at night, which not only saves energy, but means 3am trips to the bathroom are not as dazzling as they once were.
My favourite smart gadget though is my smart energy monitor, which plugs into my home’s consumer unit and monitors usage in my home throughout the day. Not only does it generate lots of cool graphs, but by letting me see my energy usage in real time, it’s a constant, friendly reminder to not just leave appliances running idle. Seeing the energy graph spike when I turn the TV on means that I’m definitely not going to forget to switch it off when I’m done.
2. The solar option
Next, we have a much more dramatic upgrade: Installing solar panels on your roof. Solar panels will take a big bite out of your carbon footprint - and your electricity bill, because solar is getting cheaper. According to Our World In Data, from 2009 to 2019, the cost of solar electricity fell by 89% as technology improved and manufacturing scaled up. So today, a three-bedroom house with a 3 or 4kW system can expect to pay in the region of £5,000-£10,000 including installation, prices that would have been unimaginable not so long ago.
To make the most of solar though, you need to add a home battery to the mix. The idea is that because the sun doesn’t shine all day long - or overnight - you can instead store any excess electricity in a battery and use that to keep the lights on when it is dark outside.
Batteries are going to be a really important part of how we reach Net Zero energy, as they will help even-out electricity demand across the day, as at the moment power stations have to burn fuel around the clock even though we only really make the most of it during the evening when cooking dinner and running the washing machine. If we can instead use electricity stored from during the day, less power needs to be generated in the first place.
The only problem with batteries is that despite technology improving at a similar rate to solar, the costs are still extremely high. Systems typically add an additional £5000 to the cost of your solar installation.
But, if you can stomach these big fees up front, the best part about solar is that your system will pay off in the long term, as not only will you reduce your drain on the national grid, but you can sell your unused generated electricity back.
Blogger Terence Eden recently calculated that in the first year of use, his 5Kw solar and battery system was saving him around £800 a year - £300 from not using grid energy, and £500 by selling his electricity back. What makes this more striking is that he did his sums before the current energy price spike, so by today’s prices, he’s standing to both save more and make more money next year.
3. Pump up the heat!
And finally, the other major new technology that will decarbonise your home is to switch off the fossil fuels that keep us warm, by switching from a gas-powered boiler to an electric heat pump. Heat pumps work a bit like a fridge in reverse, but instead of taking heat out, pump heat back in.
Heat pumps are now widely available, but they are a little unwieldy. If you want one installed, you’ll need an outdoor space suitable for an outdoor unit that’s about the size of a washing machine. And you’ll have to place it carefully to avoid annoying the neighbours, as they will hum while working.
But they will reduce your dependence on fossil fuels - and potentially save you on gas bills in the long run, especially if the current high prices persist. The only catch? According to the Energy Saving Trust, a typical system will set you back between £7000 and £13000.
Here are some links to help you get started: