Energy efficiency is an area that could help significantly in the reduction of greenhouse gas production. Energy is lost at power stations before it is converted into electricity. More energy is lost during the transmission through power cables across the country. Yet more energy is wasted in homes and businesses through inefficient equipment and products as well as poor building designs. If zero energy was wasted, we would probably not be as worried about potential climate change.
The great news is that being more energy efficient means saving a lot of money. It is good value for money to spend a bit extra on a more energy efficient appliance, as you will save money on your energy bills. Given that the global demand for energy will increase, there is a strong possibility that the demand for clean, renewable energy will exceed supply. This could lead to much higher energy prices in the future. This is a further incentive to make your homes and businesses more energy efficient, sooner rather than later.
Heating Efficiency and Insulation
If you do not have cavity wall insulation, up to 33% of the energy your home heating system consumes could be escaping through the walls of your house. If you have an older gas boiler, switching to a high-efficiency condensing boiler could save you a further 32%. Just doing those two things will halve your gas bill and there are government grants available to help cover the initial cost.
Gas prices have been in the news a great deal over the past few years and, whilst short-term measures can be taken to increase supply, the long term forecast is for gas prices to continue to rise. Taking measures now to reduce your reliance on gas to heat your home and hot water.
Electrical Generation and Transmission Efficiency
When electricity is produced at a power station, it has to be transmitted through cables across the country so that it can be used. This network of cables is called the Electricity Grid. However, not all the electrical energy makes it from the power station to the users. About 7%-7.5% of the electrical energy is lost as heat and Corona discharges. In addition to this, conventional power stations lose about 65% of the energy they create, mostly as heat.
One way around this problem is to build smaller, local power generation plants. These are used to generate electricity and the excess heat, that would normally be wasted, is used to heat water for local homes and businesses. These power plants are called Combined Heat and Power plants, or CHP for short. This can only be done on a local level, as the water would lose its heat if transported over a long distance.
Combined Heat and Power plants are about 85% efficient, compared to the 35% efficiency of a conventional power plant. There is also the 7%-7.5% energy saving as a result of the power being distributed locally, rather than across the grid. This means that, even if fossil fuels are used to power it, greenhouse gas production is greatly reduced and a lot of money is saved. Users of Combined Heat and Power tariffs have had their energy bills reduced by over 50%.
Energy Efficient Lighting
Lighting counts towards 30-40% of all electrical energy consumed. The design of the incandescent light bulb has not changed that much since it was invented. It loses huge amounts of energy as heat, using much more energy in the form of electricity than it produces in light. There are, however, alternatives.
The two main alternatives to the incandescent light bulbs are the Fluorescent light and LED-based lights. Both use far less electrical energy than the older, inefficient model.
Incandescent light bulbs work by passing a high current through a small, coiled wire, called a filament. The wire becomes extremely hot and glows white, emitting a bright light and a lot of heat (don't touch one when it is switched on!). It is this heat that makes them inefficient, as the ideal scenario is to have as much of the electricity as possible producing light, rather than heat. Eventually, the filament wire burns out and light bulb stops working.
Fluorescent lights come in the form of strips or bulbs. They contain a gas mixture that becomes excited when an electric current is passed through it. The excited gasses react with the coating on the inside of the bulb to produce light. Neon lights work in a similar way, but the gasses in a Neon Light naturally give off light without the need for the coating. Fluorescent lights operate at a much cooler temperature than incandescent bulbs and are therefore much more efficient, using only a quarter of the electricity.
LED lights take advantage of the Light Emitting Diode, an electronic component usually used to show that a circuit or device is switched on (for example, the standby light on your television set is probably an LED). They work in a similar fashion to incandescent bulbs, except they do not have a filament that burns out; they have a piece of semi-conductor that emits light when a small current passes through it. They do not get very hot and therefore consume much less energy than an incandescent bulb (about 5-6 times less energy).
Natural lighting is something that many building miss out on. Larger, double or triple glazed windows can help save on energy bills by providing natural light and heat (a literal greenhouse effect). Natural light can also be concentrated and channelled through optical fibres to provide zero-energy indoor lighting, replacing light bulbs during daylight hours.
Using one or more of the energy-saving lighting options listed above to replace your existing lighting could cut 25% off your electricity bill, for life. If you generate part of your electricity yourself, saving energy using one of the methods above means that you will be able to use more of the power you generate for other things and buy less from the grid.