No UK resident can have missed the news that the cost of electricity to the consumer in the UK is going up and up, to truly unprecedented levels. The way it works over here is that the government issues a cap, which limits the maximum amount the energy supply companies can charge consumers. Perhaps I’ll look in more detail as to how this is calculated in future but to be extremely simplistic about it at present, the majority of the increase is down to the wholesale cost of energy to the supplier, which is presently very high. In fact a bunch of them went bankrupt last year.
A year ago the cap worked out at £1,277 for the average UK consumer. Earlier this year it had already painfully zoomed up to £1,971. In October, had it been worked out in the standard way, it would be not-far-off-doubled to £3,549.
The Government has tried to mitigate some of the obvious impending disaster by putting a “price guarantee” on it such that the average consumer will be paying £2,500. So a lot less than £3,549 thankfully, but still substantially more than it ever has been.
One thing to understand about the energy cap is that it is not…a cap. Or at least not an overall one. You will always pay more if you use more electricity. The quoted cap is on the cost it would be for an average consumer. This translates down to a cap on the standing cost and unit price. If you have a big or energy inefficient house you may well pay substantially more than £2,500. So even if you manage to save up enough money to pay the £2,500, you still shouldn’t go wild from a financial, let alone an environmental, point of view.
At the time of writing there are apparently no tariffs that are appreciably below the maximum permitted cost to switch to, per Martin Lewis. So most of the levers we can pull at an individual level are about cutting down on the usage of electricity. Not necessarily a bad thing for other reasons too, including environmental, if it can be done without impacting people’s wellbeing. But that’s a big and often unrealistic if.
Some people, myself included, are billed at a different cost in the day vs in the night, aka economy 7, in which case perhaps retiming your electricity consumption will help. Although it seems weirdly difficult to learn what counts as day or night unless your electric meter is labelled or you have a smart meter - it’s not the same for everyone. In the end I just asked my electricity supplier. And will attempt to do my washing after 10pm from here on in!
What devices should we focus on to reduce our electricity consumption and hence costs?
The general rule seems to be that most modern electronics don’t cost a whole lot - modern bulbs, LCD televisions, charging your phone etc. It’s not zero, so there’s a perhaps a little potential saving you can do there. But unfortunately the big deals tend to be appliances that relate to heating or eating, both of which are fairly essential.
Bloomberg had a nice chart which combined the energy consumption of the average device of a given type with the average usage time to show the cost. Now the actual costs shown on it will be a bit higher than reality I believe because the £2500 price guarantee hadn’t been announced when they published this - but still the “big circles are the expensive ones” idea holds.
The washing machine cost I understand to be highly dependent on the temperature of the wash. If you can wash at a lower temperature you’ll save electricity. I’ve started trying 30 degrees for everything.
All heating-related ones are clearly the big drain. With regards to saving on central heating itself, I’ve seen tips around the internet that concentrate on heating the people rather than the entire house if times are real tough. For instance you can see in the above that using electric blankets is way, way cheaper than central heating. I’ve also seen suggestions for hot water bottles.
To get a more precise personal estimate, there are also energy cost calculators, like sust-it where you can type in the energy consumption of your appliance and the time you want to use it for to get a cost estimate. It also has guides for specific types of appliances e.g. vacuum cleaners or microwaves. It also allows you to compare models of appliances based on energy efficiency if you’re in the market for something new.
How should I dry my clothes?
I used the general calculator to help me think about clothes drying on occasions we have too much laundry to hang around the house and the weather won’t allow the washing line to do the trick. I used Martin Lewis' estimate of 34p per kWh, found here.
Our washing machine also has drying functionality. Whilst I can find that the appliance is overall energy rating B, I can’t quickly figure out how to know what that means specifically for the dryer component in watts. I’d say it usually takes 1-2 hours to complete. The Bloomberg chart above suggested £1.95 per load. Trying to work backwards from Which’s figures for the cheapest washer dryer I get to about £1.21 (and I’m sure ours isn’t the cheapest.) This page suggests the average dryer is about 3000 kwH which for 1.5 hours would be £1.53. This site has says a tumble dryer cycle is 4.5 kWH, which would equate to the same.
We also have a dehumidifier that works reasonably well, but may need leaving on the entire day, let’s say 8 hours. It has two settings, I usually use the clothes drying option which I assume is the high one, 725W. That’s mean it’d cost £1.97. Using the lower one would knock it down to £1.14.
There are also heated drying racks out there. In the Sun’s rundown of “the best” ones, the one they prefer overall is 230W. It seems that there’s great variance in how long clothes take to dry on them, but let’s say it’d take between 5 and 10 hours. That’d imply a cost of 39p - 78p.
So from that I guess there’s not much benefit in using the dehumidifier for long periods over the tumble drying facility of the washing machine. The heated rack sounds a more economical option, except that I’d have to buy it in the first place.
The Black Mirror option
Seeing as in 2022 we continue to inhabit the Black Mirror Timeline there is of course one other option. Exploitation via light entertainment! Here’s a much shared clip of a phone-in TV contest gameshow where the top prize on offer was “we’ll pay your electricity bills for 4 months”, the concept of which was fairly condemned by many folk out there as entirely dystopian. There is a touch of one of the early Black Mirror episodes, Fifteen Million Merits, about it to be fair.