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How energy is used in our homes

Much has been written about the Government’s changes to energy policies to reduce our energy bills by around £50 per year.  But, do we really know what makes up our energy bill?  I’m not talking about splitting between energy costs, distribution costs, administration, levies and taxes, but how this energy is actually used in our homes.  The split between heating, lighting, cooking, entertainment and other appliances.

Most people know the cost of their energy bill in pounds but what does that mean in energy terms?  One unit of electricity costs about the same as three units of gas, so heating your hot water tank using a gas boiler is around one third the cost of heating the same tank using an immersion heater.

The average cost for a duel fuel energy bill at the end of 2013 was around £1,385.  But this is an average figure, how do you know if your energy bill is much higher than other similar householders, or much lower?  And what is causing the differences?

There are over 2 million each of washing machines, tumble dryers, fridges and freezers over ten years old.  Many of these use far more energy than a modern equivalent.  In the case of fridges and freezers, the owner may have no idea that the device is no longer working correctly, indeed it could be using more electricity in just one year that the purchase price of a new, energy efficient replacement.

The Government is introducing smart meters that will allow energy companies to vary the cost of energy over the course of a day; a more sophisticated version of the Economy7 electricity tariff.  With smart meters it will become even more important to understand which the big energy consuming devices are that could be switched on at a different time of day to reduce bills.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has just published sixteen research documents looking at how energy is used in homes. This will provide essential reading for policy makers, but will also provide a source of information to enable academics, journalists and energy efficiency advisors to help the public better understand how to cut their own energy bills.  These documents include a fact-file on the energy use of UK housing as a whole, more detailed studies on energy and electricity use in specific homes and a study on the effect of heating controls on domestic energy demand.

These don’t provide all the answers, but they do indicate that heating is by far the most important contributor to energy bills (80%).  They also show how much householders use their heating systems and to what temperature they heat their homes.  The impact of energy efficiency measures on comfort can be seen, with those having better insulated homes choosing to heat them to a higher temperature rather than reducing their energy bills.  While half of all homes now have basic heating controls, many people do not actually use them to reduce their bills.  What the documents clearly show is how much opportunity most of us have to reduce our energy bills.

I hope these documents will go on provoking debate and encouraging consumers to think about how they can effectively reduce their energy bills not just during the Big Energy Saving Week, but through the whole of 2014 and beyond.

5 Responses to “How energy is used in our homes”

  1. Marcus Howling says:

    A lot of people use more energy because of poor construction or insulation problems. If more people who could afford it worked with professionals like Burns Mechanical they could ensure their businesses and domains were up to date and energy efficient. http://burnsmechanical.com/energy-solutions/

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  3. Thank you John and Rodney for highlighting some of my simplifications; I had tried to ignore second and third order effects for the purpose of readability. While an electric immersion heater can be thought of as 100% efficient, a modern condensing boiler can still deliver hot water at 85% efficiency. DECC’s December 2013 Quarterly Energy Prices publication gives average gas and electricity prices for the domestic consumer of 4.75p/kWh and 15.44p/kWh. Therefore, 1kWh of hot water would cost 5.59p from a gas boiler compared with 15.44p for an immersion heater. Using these values suggests hot water provided by gas is actually 36% the price of that delivered by electric heating rather than the one third, or 33% figure, in my simplification. As you note, variations in the age and condition of the boiler, external temperatures and actual energy prices will all have an effect on this number.

  4. Rodney Brook says:

    I was going to make the same point as John Davies, but will add that the efficiency of gas water heating in summer is lower than when the gas boiler is also providing space heating in winter. However the wholesale price of gas is more expensive in winter.

  5. John Davies says:

    Jon, It is not possible to say “heating your hot water tank using a gas boiler is around one third the cost of heating the same tank using an immersion heater”. You have not considered the efficiency of each heat source. Electric being 100% efficient and a typical gas boiler heating water around 70% efficient. Therefore the cost has been reduced by around a half.

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