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Answering your questions on water deregulation

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running faucet By Steve Johnson Via Flickr

Next April, England will follow Scotland’s lead and give non-domestic water users more choice over which company bills them. Will your business make savings or is that a pipe dream? We ask industry experts from Utilitywise to explain water deregulation.

What is happening in April 2017?

It’s when the water industry in England begins to deregulate and the barriers to competition start to come down.

If you are a business, charity or public sector organisation, it means you will be able to switch the retail part of your water services to your choice of service provider.

Every customer from 1 April will be free agents – you will not have a contract, so you can switch straightaway.

What is Ofwat’s role?

Ofwat is the industry regulator. It is the teeth of a £3 billion industry. To establish the market, Ofwat asked the 14 regional water companies in England to split their businesses between wholesale (the infrastructure) and retail (customer service and billing).

Between now and April, Oftwat has told the water companies they have to declare their intentions.

How have the water companies reacted?

Most of them reacted to deregulation by inflating the wholesale price. But Ofwat has warned them that in 2020, when it rebalances the market, they will have to bring the wholesale price down.

Some (e.g. Thames Water, Southern, and Portsmouth) have already decided not to have a retail division and have informed customers.

United, Severn Trent and Anglian are among those that have decided to create retail arms either to keep hold of their customers or to poach from those that aren’t going retail. Others companies are undecided.

Scotland deregulated its water industry in 2008. What were customers’ attitudes to switching.

At the start, many customers in Scotland were critical of the service they were receiving from the incumbent company, Scottish Water. The government decided to break its monopoly to force improvements.

Customers felt that any alternative was a bonus and were prepared to switch regardless of price. Many did just that.

We think this will also be the case in England. We predict customers will be delighted to have a chance at switching as there’s a groundswell of opinion that the service isn’t as great as the water companies think it is.

What benefits has Scotland seen?

Customers receive a better service, lower prices because the water market is deregulated, and multiple branches or sites can be brought under one bill, which is a big advantage.

They have also benefited from lower CO2 emissions, water efficiencies, and better monitoring and understanding of how they use water.

What will be the benefits of switching in England?

Very much the same. A decrease in price will be minimal at first, as it was in Scotland, but when the market rebalances, that will improve.

In Scotland there was a high margin between the wholesale and retail price at the beginning, so new providers could apply for a licence and enter the market. That won’t happen in England because the margin at the moment is too small. So there won’t be an explosion of new providers.

However, there will be some new names for customers to get to know, as the water companies in England move away from being geographically specific and change the name of their retail divisions. Northumberland Water, for example, will retain its name for its wholesale arm but its retail division is called Wave.

In the meantime, customers will ask ‘then what can you do for me?’ The answer is better service and reduced usage and consumption, particularly if you are offered a multi-utility package i.e. your gas, water, electricity and even telecoms packaged together.

What happens in October this year?

Although the market deregulates in April 2017, prices will be available in October 2016 so you don’t have to wait until next year to do something about it.

Every water company will have to publish their prices to know the margin and split of wholesale and retail. It means you can commit to a company that has the best price.

So is it best to act now or wait?

Act now. We can’t speak for other firms, but you can talk to Utilitywise, provide all your information and get everything in place, then relax knowing that when the switch occurs you will have already chosen and switched over.

The power is in your hands to put your water account where you want. If everyone does nothing, there’s no reason for suppliers to reduce prices.

Why is 2020 significant?

It’s the year when Ofwat instructs the wholesale companies to reduce their price. It means lower bills for customers.

Do you foresee any problems?

People will be confused with name changes as water companies they have known for years use different names for their retail arms.

Another question is whether the billing will be right. In Scotland, many retail providers still don’t know where all their customers are. There are gaps everywhere.

Some water companies will be bad at sending bills, others will be better. We can’t know yet.

What does the future hold?

Margins will be small at the start so we expect prices to sizzle. The real gains will be in better management of water.

Ten years down the line, the future will be multi-utility bills where your water, electricity, gas and even telecoms are packaged in one bill. This is where true savings will lie and it’s a course that Cathryn Ross, CEO of Ofwat, has already recommended in a Daily Telegraph interview.

Utilitywise will be procuring competitive water prices for people while advising on how to reduce consumption and water usage. As far as we know, we’re the only company offering multi-service bundles.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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