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How energy labelling cost some residents the Earth

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Fuel poverty hit the headlines again this week with This is Money amongst others reporting that the government is seeking to change the definition of the key measure of ‘fuel poverty’.

The number of ‘fuel poor’ households could rise to 8.1m by 2016, according to a Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) consultation document. Using the new measure for fuel poverty, this figure would be cut to 2.9m households.

Is this yet another example of the government’s seeming inability to tackle the problem of fuel poverty head on? Rather than another attempt to massage the figures, why not do something practical, like doing away with harmful initiatives that are causing consumer heating bills to soar rather than fall. Energy labelling standards is a case in point.

recent exposé by the BBC’s Rip-Off Britain series revealed how vulnerable residents on two UK housing developments saw their energy bills escalate as a result of the energy standards approved heating system in place.

According to the BBC report, the residents had been advised that energy bills would be lower due to the NIBE exhaust air source heat pump system in place, a renewable technology that works by pumping waste air back into the heating and hot water system.

The programme showed how residents across the two estates soon received energy bills four times the predicted amount which they struggled to pay. During the investigation, the manufacturers insisted that the blame lay not on the product but on poor specification, installation and usage.

The air source heat pump was backed by an Energy Performance Certificate. And there’s the rub. The energy labelling of this product had misled the housing associations as to its real life energy saving benefits in a new build development. The air source heat pump was insufficiently large to heat the houses, which meant that it needed to rely on the immersion heater backup to provide the heat. So instead of providing adequate energy efficient, affordable heating by itself, the heat pump system depended on the support of expensive electricity, hence the astronomically high bills.

Rather than taking vulnerable residents out of fuel poverty, the energy standards approved heat pump was placing people in deeper financial difficulties. For one resident the situation became so severe that she was reduced to making a stark decision between buying food or keeping warm.

The question the BBC and we should be asking is, why bother creating an energy efficiency standard if the product will not be capable of operating to a high efficiency level in real life, real world situations? If the standard promotes idealised rather than real world efficiencies, then it’s of no benefit to the consumer; it’s skewed to work in the interest of the manufacturer. The silver spoon it appears to offer might well turn out to be wooden after all.

Back on the housing estates, the solution reached by one of the housing associations was to rip out the air source heat pumps and replace them with gas condensing boilers. Fuel bills went down immediately. The condensing boiler is a tried and tested heating solution. Fitting a boiler with a passive flue gas heat recovery device like the Zenex GasSaver reduces bills still further.

Yet from 2016, government legislation will make it illegal to fit a gas boiler into a new build property. And many London boroughs in control of local authority district housing schemes are already blocking gas boilers in favour of air source heat pumps. According to Rip-off Britain, an estimated 15,000 of these systems have been fitted across the country to date, as developers seek to make new build developments ‘greener’ in line with government targets.

Someone should advise them to watch Rip-off Britain as a matter of urgency.

The UK government knows that energy labels are misleading the public. It’s not just heat pumps, but all manner of ‘renewable’ or low-carbon products that on one hand achieve the highest energy efficiency rating, but on the other are penalised in UK Building Regulations for being, well, less efficient. How is the consumer or, for that matter, the professional employed in the building industry supposed to deal with this? It seems that as long as the government keeps on subsidising and promoting these misleading positions then both the consumer and the industry will be virtually powerless to change tack.

Tackling the government over these issues isn’t easy as the standard response is to state the fact that energy labels are the responsibility of European legislation. From my experience, the European Commission is more interested in claiming carbon savings than energy savings, conveniently focusing on idealised test standards that operate outside of the frame of reference for standard efficiency products or that of consumer needs.

Take for example gas boilers that under newly proposed European test standards Lot1, ERP (Energy Related Products) will be tested at between 30-36°C when the boiler is at low gas/fan rates, effectively showing the boiler at its highest possible efficiency but not one that a consumer can benefit from. The inevitable result from this sort of situation is that the science of fact eventually creeps in, in this case, SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) where currently A-rated gas boilers are de-rated to band B and in reality should be a C. Perhaps this is a step too far for the government and regulators to defend…

At some point there will need to be a correction, just as in the case of the recent GCSE exams. However, as we have seen, changing the marking system mid stream can be extremely unpopular with voters and the industry alike.

Consumers face real world experiences such as the conflict between the misleading energy labelling and unnecessarily high energy bills. Isn’t it time that the government took a serious look at what the European Commission is trying to impose on the UK?  Unless we get this sorted we will never be able to revert the course of rising fuel poverty.

Rather than changing the goal posts on fuel poverty to make the statistics look better, the government should make a stand and address energy labelling standards as a matter of urgency, changing them to benefit consumers. And we too must act now and respond to the DECC consultation by 30 November.

It’s time to stop this UK rip-off energy business now.

Chris Farrell is the managing director of Zenex Technologies, a British company founded in 2003 specialising in innovative energy saving products for both the domestic and commercial markets. This post originally featured on his blog, The Green Entrepreneur.

Further reading:

How low-cost bolt-ons could bring green deal success

Cut carbon or put profit first? Who says you can’t do both?

EU energy legislation: it’s time to steady the ship

Chris Farrell is the managing director of Zenex Energy, a British company founded in 2003 specialising in innovative energy saving products for both the domestic and commercial markets

Features

Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands

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Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.

Small waste adds up over time

A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:

  • Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
  • Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
  • Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
  • Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.

Going electronic has significant benefits

If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.

Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:

  • Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
  • Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
  • Using financial software to manage your books
  • Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
  • Arranging digital feedback and review forms
  • Making the most of Google Docs

Going green can help you to make money too

Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.

Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.

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