Politicians need to talk about how we can lower bills by using less energy as a winter crisis looms

France and the Netherlands have produced guidance to cut domestic energy use under respective ‘energy sobriety’ and ‘dial it down’ programmes


The size of our energy bills is due to two things – how much energy costs, and how much of it we use.

The first of these, for good reason, is front-page news at the moment. Wholesale gas prices are reaching new highs on an almost daily basis, pushing cost of heating and lighting our homes beyond the reach of millions.

Unaffordable energy will hit those on lower incomes the hardest, with the poorest fifth of households having to cut back on spending at three times the rate of the richest fifth this winter, as spending on essentials – energy, housing, food – eats up more of family budgets.

With an undeniably bleak winter ahead, our leaders should be engaged in a game of one-upmanship to lessen the misery that awaits. But instead one half of the energy bills puzzle remains overlooked.

Proposed policies currently sit in two camps: making payments to households so they have more money to pay bills, or making energy cheaper so bills are lower.

Both worthy – and entirely essential – courses of action, especially as it could soon cost £10 per day to put the heating on. Yet silence on how we can use less energy remains.

After all, the summer’s drought has seen hosepipe bans, advice to take short showers and pleads to not use paddling pools. Is there something different about energy? Newspapers and blogs are full of energy-saving advice, but from our politicians: nothing.

One only has to look to mainland Europe, where EU nations are aiming to cut gas use by 15 per cent this winter, for inspiration.

France and the Netherlands have produced guidance to cut domestic energy use under respective ‘energy sobriety’ and ‘dial it down’ programmes, detailing the benefits of shorter showers, cooler heating, and less wasteful lifestyles.

Spain is looking to cut energy use by limiting cooling and heating temperatures in public spaces, reluctant-to-act Germany is offering discount public transport, and Italian ministers have done the unthinkable and asked families to cook with less gas and electricity.

So, what would an energy demand reduction strategy look like for the UK?

A change of tune from ministers to acknowledge that we should be reducing energy consumption – for our energy bills’ sake, but also to help lower the cost of gas across Europe – would allow households to get a greater understanding of where the greatest savings lie.

While we certainly need to step up plans to insulate the nation’s homes – the penalty for living in an energy inefficient home could top £230 in January alone – an efficiency programme is now too late to make a big different this winter.

Instead, we could avoid heating rooms that do not get used by fitting smart heating controls, prioritising free upgrades for those on lower incomes. With support having been available through the Green Homes Grant, the gadgets that make it easy to switch off and on individual radiators could reportedly cut heating bills by a third.

There are also reported savings on offer from reducing condensing boiler flow temperatures to reduce energy waste in a way that doesn’t affect room temperatures. Ministers should be seeing if these are proven in the real world, and if so make sure that the necessary modifications are mandated into boiler services and into gas safety certificates for rental properties.

Finally, we should be rolling out efficient lighting in the home – posting millions of free lightbulbs to those on means tested benefits and lower incomes, each of which can save £10 per year. A little but everything helps.

There are north of five million homes in England and Wales alone with poor or very poor lighting efficiency – fixing this is the absolute lowest hanging fruit in using less energy at home.

Quick demand saving measures will not solve the problem alone, but they will cut energy use and increase awareness on what can be done to further pare back waste.

Getting through this winter and beyond will be tough, but it would be less tough if political leaders were honest about what could be done, and used all of the tools available to them.

This article was first published in iNews