What do the energy suppliers actually do?

It is a well known fact that the gas and electricity markets in the UK are dominated by the ‘Big 6’:, in order of size, British Gas, Npower, SSE, Scottish Power, E.On and EDF. Between them they control 95% of the UK’s market share. Without getting into too much detail about who are they and the rights and wrongs of a controlled market, let’s look at what they do. For the purposes of this article we will refer to electricity because pretty much every house in the UK is connected to the electricity grid but many are not connected to the gas grid.

The people we pay our bills to are energy distributors. This should not be mixed up with ‘District Network Operators’. The DNOs are the owners of the various parts of the grid but not necessarily the people you pay your bill to. Confusingly, the DNOs often act as energy distributors as well. So if you are in the Central Belt of Scotland, your DNO will be SSE. However, your energy distributor may be any one of the above.

If you have changed electricity supplier recently you will have noticed that no bulldozers came and ripped up your drive to lay new gas pipes or cables. This is because it all comes from the same place. SSE and British Gas do not have rival cables in the ground to connect your house up to! The most important thing then to understand is that the energy ‘suppliers’ do not actually supply you with anything. It is simply an administrative exercise. The DNOs control the network; you take in the electricity; the meter tells everyone how much: the DNO bills the energy supplier and the energy supplier bills you (with a mark-up, of course!)

So there you have it: what do they do? Not much really. Next blog will be looking at how to beat them!

Is energy efficiency important for your business?

The answer to this question is almost certainly yes for one reason or another but the real question is whether you can do anything about it. To answer this, you must look at what kind of business you are.

Do you have real estate? If so, it certainly requires heating and electricity. Where these are used, they could probably be used more efficiently. Turn down your stat, turn off lights overnight, don’t allow computers to be on standby. All the usual things

Do you use a LOT of energy? Maybe you’re in manufacturing or the food industry or another energy intense industry. If so, you could do all of the above and still shell out thousands every month. If you’re spending a load of money on electricity and have a decent roof space, you should consider solar panels. This is particularly the case if lots of your energy use is during daylight hours.

Maybe you run an online business from a little office which sells gizmos and energy bills aren’t a big deal. Energy efficiency is though. If you sell goods online which need to be delivered to an address then energy will be consumed in the delivery. Done inefficiently, this will result in higher costs for you and in turn your customer. Some transportation companies offer a pick up scheme which basically tracks its vehicles and people can go online and say they need this small item picked up from x to go to y. If it’s doable they’ll pick it up and take it to the next place. This means that the return journey isn’t wasted for the delivery guy and the deliverer gets their parcel there for a lower cost.

Maybe you’re an on the road salesman. Have you considered an electric vehicle or a hybrid? There are now loads of places these can be charged up and most of them are free! If you have access to solar you can even charge up your car at your own home for free!

When you open your eyes to this, you will see that any way in which your business uses energy can almost certainly be done in a more efficient manner. Just look at what you’re spending and think of ways to reduce it.

6 ways to beat the ‘Big 6’

When we are advised about how to save energy on our bills, all we usually hear is “change your supplier.” This is totally unhelpful advise because there is a closed shop of suppliers and its in none of their interests to make our energy any cheaper. Unless we take radical steps to understand we will never be able to beat the Big 6.

The ‘Big 6’ energy suppliers do not actually supply energy: they just do the administration for the District Network Operators. So they buy the gas and electricity from the DNOs then bill you with a marked up bill for the same amount. This helps us work out how to beat them:

 

  1. Your gas or electricity bill is made up of two parts: the daily standing charge and the price per kWh of gas or electricity. A standing charge you will get charged for every day no matter how much you use and the unit price is metered and you get charged for what you use. Usually every deal will be high in one or the other. When you pick your supplier this is the rule of thumb: if you do not use much gas/electricity then choose a deal with a low standing charge and high unit price. If you use a lot of gas/electricity choose a deal with a high standing charge and a low unit price.
  2. There’s not just 6 of them! This may come as a surprise but there are actually many companies who do the exact service as British Gas and the like, they just don’t have anything like the advertising budgets and only really exist online. Some of my faves are Flow, Utility Warehouse and Ecotricity. You may or may not get a better deal but at least you’re spreading the wealth!
  3. Provide your own. Renewable energy sources such as solar (pv or thermal), biomass and heat pumps are a great way to get yourself off relying on the ‘big 6’. Battery storage for solar pv will help even more.
  4. Never get them to install your boiler! Or any other big company for that matter. A good rule of thumb for construction work is that the installation company size should be proportional to the size of the project. If you’re replacing your boiler, this is a small job. If you’re building a home this is a big(gish) job. A big company doing a small job will never do it with as much care and attention to detail as a small, well-reputed local installer. All these little guys have to trade off is their reputation, not a massive advertising budget. What’s worse, if one of the big 6 install your boiler they will definitely push you into an emergency cover programme which you don’t need (all decent boilers come with breakdown cover). Go out into your street, look for a van, write down the phone number and give them a call!
  5. Turn the stat down. To turn an old-fashioned phrase around, you pay for what you get. Same is true for energy. If you’ve got all the lights on, TV blaring and heating blasting. you will use a lot of energy. Of course, the energy companies will pretend that they want you to be more energy efficient but that’s like Cadburys saying people shouldn’t eat chocolate. A little bit of care and self-discipline around the house will really keep your costs down and eat into their profits.
  6. Sign online petitions to get the government to act: http://action.compassonline.org.uk/page/s/end-the-big-six-energy-fix

It might not be much but every little helps!

Is biomass for you?

Of all renewable heating products, biomass has got the most to consider before you put a boiler in. If you’re thinking about doing this-these are some questions that you need to ask yourself:

1. What kind of wood fuel will I use?
There are 3 types to choose from: logs, wood chip and pellets. Logs are great if you have a ready supply of logs handy. Maybe your best mate is a lumberjack or instead of a gym membership you like to exercise with an axe! If you can get hold of logs for cheap this is perfect. Remember though-logs need to be dried out for 2 years to burn well. Storage therefore is key.
Chips tend to be used for more commercial premises but can be used for domestic. Like logs they are usually used by those who know they can get hold of them cheaply. Maybe you own a wood chipper for some reason. Again with chips you need to give 2 years drying time so you need to think carefully about storage. A small barn or something similar is perfect.
Pellets are the most common domestic fuel. They are great because there are strict perameters on pellet size and water content which must be adhered to by anyone selling them. They can be bought in 10kg bags or they can be truck delivered.

2. How will the wood fuel get to my boiler?
Again, this depends which fuel you use. Logs always have to be manually placed in the boiler chamber. No way around this unfortunately.
Chips can be manually fed but they are almost always fed by an auger into the boiler chamber. This means that once your store is full it will automatically feed into the boiler with no work required.
Pellets can be either manually or automatically fed. If you don’t fancy lugging sacks of 10kg bags around every couple of days then you will need a hopper which can be fed from a delivery truck. Again, the size of these varies from 200kg to 5-tonne hoppers (obviously there is no limit tot he size of a a bespoke one). For cost, it is best to get as big a delivery as possible but this will mean a bigger hopper taking up more space.

3. Planning?
Some areas don’t like any smoke producing equipment. Increasingly though planning regs are recognising the environmental benefits of biomass and easing the laws to suit. In city areas planning tends to be stricter but check with your local council.

4. What are the alternatives?
If you’re on the gas grid then this is obviously an option. If not, then the main options are heat pump, LPG, oil or electric boiler. A heat pump is the ideal if your property is modern and well insulated. Electrically run, no emissions, efficiency through the roof. Put in a heat pump!
The problems with fossil fuels (LPG and oil) are well documented-dirty, expensive, held hostage to price hikes, need I go on?
Electric boilers are very expensive to run but are at least clean. If you really want to go down that route, make sure you have solar pv installed so you can at least some of your costs.

5. How can efficiency of the boiler be maximised?
The usual things apply-minimise heat losses in the property-insulation, double glazing etc. To really make the most of the boiler though, have solar thermal, or even better, solar thermal/pv hybrid, installed at the same time. This will really take the pressure off the boiler and in the summer months, when the heating is off or used rarely, you will find you hardly use any fuel at all.

Feed in tariff drop

In January of this year, the government dropped the solar pv feed-in-tariff to 2.85p/kWhour (while keeping the 4.85p/kWhour export tariff). This amounted to approximately an 85% cut in the tariff. Obviously this has hit the solar pv industry pretty hard and there has not been much work on in that side of the industry.
However, there are still reasons to be cheerful. One of the most exciting things that is coming on board to soalr is battery storage. This is a system that can be retro fitted to store up electricity that is not used during daylight hours and use it at night (when not generating). At this stage, we are just looking at the products most suitable for our customers but if you have a system installed by us you can look forward to a call in the not too distant future! Of course, if you have a solar pv system installed by others, we would be very happy to look at battery storage for you.

Why are biomass boilers so popular?

The greatest change that’s taken place in the renewable energy industry over the last year or so is the mainstream breakthrough of biomass boilers on to the domestic market. This has largely been brought about by the introduction of the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which pays the owner to produce heat. It isn’t just biomass which has benefited from RHI (tariffs are also in place for heat pumps, solar thermal and micro-CHP) but it is biomass that has really picked up.

Here’s some reasons why:
1. Biomass produces a high heat output so is perfect for older housing stock. There is a lot of older housing stock in the UK and when people were building lovely countryside cottages, they weren’t too bothered about insulation, LEDs and double-glazed windows! The low insulation values mean that a high heat output is required and a heat pump won’t do. Biomass is perfect!
2. It uses wood and lots of people have lots of wood. If you live in the countryside on a farm or even just have a reasonable sized garden, you probably wouldn’t mind chopping down a tree or two and feeding this into your biomass boiler. One tree will keep you going for a good year or two. You need to be careful though. The moisture content of untreated wood varies greatly and high moisture content affects the running of the boiler. Also, you need to be sure that you are happy chopping wood for the next 25 years. After a while it may get a bit tiresome!
3. The fuel is cheap and plentiful. Most domestic boilers are fed by pellets, not logs. These are readily available and compares favourably with oil and LPG, and a strong domestic supply chain is being put in place to make sure it stays that way.

There are great reasons for installing any kind of renewable technology  but biomass is fast becoming a front runner.

Thermodynamic panels

A product that is starting to come to widespread attention is the thermodynamic panel. So what is it, how does is work and what are the potential pitfalls?

First of all, what is it? A thermodynamic panel, although it resembles a solar thermal panel is actually much closer to a heat pump. This is because, unlike a solar thermal system, the panels are the heat collectors of a closed refrigerant system. The major practical difference between a standard heat pump and a thermodynamic panel is that the heat pump is usually used for heating and hot water whereas the panel is usually just used for hot water.

Thermodynamic panels are very efficient and do operate even in very cold conditions. The panel can be placed on a wall or a roof but unlike solar pv and solar thermal can work very effectively even on north facing roofs (although south facing is best).

In terms of potential pitfalls, the biggest is getting the right installer. To be able to install these systems, the installer must be experienced in both roofing and plumbing, with a bit of electrical training thrown in. An unusual mix! One thing to look out for is ex-solar pv companies. A lot of them are circling around this product because they think it’s a fairly straight forward retro-fit. Like with most of these things though, its only straight forward if it is fitted properly into a system that is suitable for it.

One thing which will separate the wheat from the chaff is f-gas certification. Always make sure that the installer is an f-gas certified installer. This basically qualifies the installer to deal with refrigerants. If they don’t have this don’t touch them.

Of course, it goes without saying that BEC is fully f-gas certified, has roofing, plumbing and electrical know how and will do a great job for you with this product. If it is something that you are interested in then get in touch!

Green Deal Installer

Now that Better Energy Control is accredited as a Green Deal installer for micro-generational technologies (solar pv, solar thermal and heat pumps) I feel I can put a bit of comment on the process.

Green Deal is a finance mechanism which allows energy saving installations to be financed up front and then paid back by the end users at the rate at which they save money on their bills. Broadly the measures allowed under it fall it to one of two categories: energy conservation and energy generation.

Energy conservation includes measures such as insulation and double-glazed windows. Measures that will prevent heat from escaping from the property and cutting your bills in that way. Energy generation is what BEC is interested in. Allowing our customers to cut their bills by generating their own energy.

 

Green deal accredited!

Hello loyal readers! Its been a long time since my last post but the reason for this is that I haven’t really had anything interesting to write about. The harsher amongst you will reply that that has never stopped me before but I will choose to ignore such jibes.

Good news! BEC is Green Deal accredited! I went through the accreditation process over the last couple of weeks and the powers that be have decided that I am good enough to install solar pv, solar thermal and heat pumps.

If you want to get a Green Deal for yourself then you need to get in touch with a Green Deal advisor. They will give you an official report on what you are able to have installed and what would improve the energy efficiency of your property. Once that is done you contact the Green Deal installer (that would be me) to sort out the installation.

Get in touch soon!

horse meat in the construction industry

You may be wondering what all the fuss in the papers recently really has to do with you. Apart from the odd bit of horse flesh which didn’t seem to do you a lot of harm: not a lot (you might think). However, the horsemeat scandal is the tip of the iceberg in how business is run in the UK, and so it seems, way beyond.

Putting horse meat into packets with cow meat on the label is done for one reason only: to cut costs. At a certain point in time in a certain place, horse meat was going for a cheaper rate than cow meat and so a cost-cutter somewhere put it in. More profit for the company, no real harm done to the consumer (100 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong), everybody wins.

However, the same thinking goes into many industries and construction is no exception. Particularly in times of recession, there is a race to the bottom for any contractor who wants to win a contract. The thing I hate most about tendering for work is being asked the inevitable question: “is that the best price you can offer?” Of course it is! If I could go lower without sacrificing quality then I would have!

For a responsible contractor (like Better Energy Control) this always presents a dilemma. Do we drop the quality of our materials and workmanship so as to win work? I am happy to say that the answer to this question so far has always been ‘no’. I know that we have missed out on contracts because others have undercut us. Obviously it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth but I hope that in the long-term we will reap the benefits.

So from my blog (which nobody reads!) I send out a message to the good people of Britain: ‘when it comes to construction, don’t fill your houses with dodgy lasagnes! Get a proper job done and pay the going rate!”

Shale gas

Hello everyone, sorry its been a while since my last post. I’m sure my readers have been just bored senseless waiting for more news from Planet Renewable-both of you!

Anyway, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk of fracking, shale gas and whether this will result in the abortion of the budding renewable energy industry. So as usual, I’m going to throw in my two pennies worth for you to consider.

Energy extracted from shale is no new thing. In fact, shale was the first commercial source of oil and it was huge business up until about 1900. Little historical fact-did you know that the first commercial oil refinery was not in the Middle East or in America but in…Bathgate, West Lothian. The large shale and coal deposits there meant it was the perfect place for James ‘Paraffin’ Young’s famous plant (the fact it was his home town also probably helped). In fact, if you drive out of Edinburgh on the M9 and look to your left you will see what like two red man made hills. These are shale bings-the dumping ground for used shale, now used largely as a semi-legal motorbike rally park.

The commercial success of the process of fracking to uncover large shale reserves in America has led many to think that this is the answer to the UK’s energy prayers. We have under our feet almost as much shale as we do coal. It is estimated by some that if we can use the American techniques to extract gas from this shale then we have enough energy for our needs for around 80 years. This, say some, spells the end for renewable energy before it has even got going. Why would we want to rely on an unpredictable and expensive energy resource when we’ve got loads of lovely shale just waiting to be set alight to keep our cars running and homes cosy?

There are several reasons. First of all, even if shale is as reliable a producer of gas as its supporters suggest, there is still only a finite amount of it. In the grand scheme of things, 80 years is not a long time. It will probably see me into the next world, but not by that much. What do we think will happen in 80 year’s time? Will the world’s energy use have magically disappeared and we can all happily live in caves with no warmth or light? I don’t think so. If shale gas can be used safely and cleanly all the better but let’s not kid ourselves that this solves the long-term problem with energy supply. The only energy sources which can be constantly renewed are those supplied by nature-wind, wave, tidal, solar and geothermal. These technologies still require loads more investment and research and it would just be idiotic to put all that on the backburner because we may have a temporary stopgap.

Secondly, there are big question marks over the technique in extracting this deep lying shale. The process of fracking involves high intensity sand and water blasting. This has potentially harmful effects on the structural integrity of the very ground we walk on i.e. causing earthquakes. Also, the technique could well pollute the water table, leaving us dirty drinking water. As with renewable energy though, there is still plenty of work to be done to come up with better systems. I am sure as the industry matures that more efficient techniques will be invented.

Thirdly, this does not solve the climate issues. Climate change is potentially the key issue that the world is facing at the moment. Burning shale may not be as dirty as burning coal, but it is still releasing carbon dioxide into the environment and this must be reduced.

Shale gas? There are issues with it, but I think it could well have a role to play. Don’t kid/concern (delete as appropriate) yourself that this is the end for renewable energy though. If we are silly, it could mean a temporary reprieve. If we have any sense, we keep going. One thing is for sure: long-term, we will need it.

 

Solar Thermal Commercial

Solar thermal is used to provide hot water for commercial use. There could be several uses for this. In situations where large amounts of hot water is required for heating and for kitchens and bathrooms, for example factories, community centres, camp sites, schools or farms this goes a long way to offsetting heating bills. The heat from the solar thermal system pre-heats the water and the additional heat source brings it up to temperature.

Solar thermal is ideal for use with swimming pools. The water temperature is ideal for this use.

The Renewable Heat Incentive pays the user as heat is produced at a rate of 8.9p/kW hour.

Better Energy Control offers full installation services from initial consultation o final commissioning and offer bespoke recommendations for your situation.

For a free consultation please call 0131 443 3972 or email michael@betterenergycontrol.co.uk

 

Solar PV Commercial

Solar PV is increasingly being used in commercial and industrial applications to offset electricity bills and provide a steady income. If you own or run a large commercial premises such as a factory, farm, bus station or car show room, the chances are that you use a lot of electricity. Every day during daylight hours, a ongoing, reliable form of energy is pouring onto your property which could be converted into electricity. All it takes is installing solar panels and your electricity bill will plummet. What’s more you will be paid a tariff for the electricity that you generate. The rate depends on the size of the installed capacity. The rates are as follows:

Total installed capacity (kW)   Generation tariff with eligibility date 1 Nov 2012 – 30 April 2013  
<4kW (new build and retrofit) 15.44p/kWh
>4-10kW 13.99p/kWh
>10-50kW 13.03p/kWh
stand-alone 7.1p/kWh

 

What is more, your grid connection is basically a two way system so electricity can be fed onto the national grid as well as from it. What this means is that you will effectively own your own power station and you will be paid a further 4.5p/kW hour.

Better Energy Control can offer a full installation service from initial consultation to feasibility studies with the local DNO, full design and installation and connection tests to comply with G59/2-1 testing legislation.

To arrange a free consultation please call 0131 443 3972 or email michael@betterenergycontrol.co.uk

Renewable Energy Scotland

Renewable energy is the future of energy supply. As gas and electricity prices soar, you can gain control of your energy supply by investing in renewable energy.

Every property is different, whether it is a domestic or commercial premises, whether you require large amounts of hot water or electricity, renewable energy is almost certainly for you.

Better Energy Control is a specialist installer of renewable energy systems and we are based in Scotland. We are an MCS accredited installer of solar pv, heat pumps and solar thermal.

We offer full installation services from initial consultation to final commissioning. For a free consultation phone 0131 443 3972 or email michael@betterenergycontrol.co.uk

G59/2-1 Testing

G59/2-1 testing service. Accredited tester of G59/2-1 SSEGs. Able to visit sites anywhere in the UK or Ireland. Particularly active in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If you are installing an SSEG (wind, solar, CHP etc.) and require test panel installation and witness testing with the DNO then Michael Hale of Better Energy Control can complete these installations for you.

Phone 0131 443 3972 or email michael@betterenergycontrol.co.uk to arrange.