Friday, 24 February 2017

Is it a smart decision to upgrade our gas and electricity meter?

Smart meters aren’t compulsory and people can choose not to have one, but the government wants energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland by 2020.

So, just what are smart meters?

Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters and are designed to put us in control of our energy use through the provision of near real time information showing how much energy we are using and how much it is costing us in pounds and pence.  This means we can be confident that we're only paying for what we have actually used and we'll always know what to expect in our next bill, so no more nasty surprises.

The move towards installing smart meters came from the European Union who asked all member governments to look at smart meters as part of measures to upgrade our energy supply and tackle climate change.  After an initial study, the British government decided to adopt smart meters as part of their plan to update our ageing energy system which hadn't kept up to speed with improvements across almost every other area of our lives. 

As part of a smart meter installation, each household will receive an in home display which will show:
  • How much energy we’re using in near real time for electricity and every half hour for gas
  • How much energy was used in the last hour, week, and month (and what it cost)
  • Whether our electricity use is high, medium or low

If you have a prepay meter, it will also show:
  • How much credit you have left
  • How much you have on your emergency credit balance
  • Your debt balance (if you have one)
  • If your credit’s getting low

So, should you upgrade?

Ultimately it is an individual decision, but if you are going to analyse the information and are able to make changes to your energy use then smart meters can save you money and reduce your household emissions. They remove the need for estimated billing so we will only be billed for the energy we actually use, which could help with our household budgeting. They also make it easier for us to switch energy supplier.  The only possible negative is around data privacy as energy suppliers will be able to access our energy consumption data.  We will have a choice about how our energy consumption data is used and we can opt-out of certain options such as using our data for marketing purposes, but we won’t be able to opt out of data sharing where it is required for billing and other regulated purposes.

There are no charges for installation or for the actual smart meter and in-home display. Under current arrangements we pay for the cost of our meter and its maintenance through our energy bills, and this will be the same for smart meters.

Ultimately the introduction of smart meters will enable a more efficient, greener, smarter energy system and lay the foundations for smart grids, which are a whole new way of running our energy networks. Smart grids are reportedly going to be much better at integrating green technologies, from electric cars to home rooftop solar panels and heat pumps. They will help us get the most from variable power sources like wind and solar.

Currently, nearly five million smart meters have been installed across Great Britain, but how soon you can get one depends on your energy supplier's plans. You should contact your energy supplier for more information on timeframes.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

You could beat rising gas and electricity prices by using renewable heat sources

Turning your home into a mini-power station using renewable heat technologies could help you cut bills and carbon emissions by generating a significant proportion of your heating and hot water needs yourself.  Plus it means you’re less dependent on sources of energy that are increasingly subject to global demand, so you're more protected from future price rises.

The government launched the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) to pay households to generate renewable heat through low or zero carbon microgeneration technology.   However, since its launch in 2013, payments have been reduced. You can find out more about the Renewable Heat Incentive here.

You can apply to get payments from your energy supplier if you generate your own electricity using renewable technologies such as solar panels. This is called a ‘feed-in tariff’.  You find out more about this at

If you're considering installing a microgeneration technology in your home, it’s important to take a long-term view.

Let’s look at the three main renewable technology options available for your home – heat pumps, solar panels and biomass boilers.


Ground Source and Air Source Heat Pumps

A ground source heat pump system harnesses natural heat from underground by pumping water through it.   Ground source heat pump systems are made up of a network of water pipes buried underground (generally in a garden) and a heat pump at ground level.

An air source heat pump takes heat from the air and is usually placed outdoors at the side or back of a property. 

In both systems the heat pump increases the temperature, and the heat is used to provide home heating or hot water. They require electricity to work, but should cost less to run than a traditional heating system.

For more information read our guide on Understanding Heat Pumps.

Solar Panels

Solar panels harness the power of sunlight to provide heat and hot water. Solar thermal panels generate heat and solar photovoltaic panels generate electricity and any extra electricity that you generate but don't use will be sent to the National Grid, which you'll get paid for. You will need to consider whether your home is in the best position to harness the power of sunlight.

For more information read our guide on Solar Thermal Hot Water.

Wood-burning Stoves

Wood-burning stoves generate heat meaning that you won't have to turn on your central heating. You can use a stove to heat just one room, such as the room you use most. Alternatively, you can get one installed with a 'back boiler', which means the heat it creates will heat your whole home. If you source discarded wood and dry it out yourself, instead of buying logs especially for your stove, heating your home could cost nothing. But you'll need to be sure you can get a regular supply and that you have room to store wood.

For more information read our guide on Understanding Biomass Appliances.

Sourcing the right installer

You can use APHC’s search facility at to find a qualified installer who is registered under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, which will allow you to claim the financial incentives from the Feed-in Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Friday, 3 February 2017

How to set your heating controls to keep you warm for less this winter

Your heating system may include a range of controls which can be used to help you run your heating system efficiently.  If your heating system doesn’t include any of these controls, you may be able to have them installed by a qualified heating engineer.

According to the Energy Savings Trust, heating your home and hot water accounts for around 60% of your total energy bill and installing heating controls could save you between £80 and £165 a year.

This blogpost details the main heating controls associated with a heating system and advises on how best to use them.

Programmer/Timer. You use this to manage when your heating and hot water turn on and off.  You should use the programmer to only heat your home and hot water when you need them.  Leaving your heating constantly on low will generally result in your home being heated when you are not there and being not warm enough when you are there.  Timing the heating and hot water to come on half an hour before entering your home or using the hot water should provide enough time to warm your home and water to a comfortable temperature.

Room Thermostat. This regulates the temperature of your home by turning off the boiler when the room where the thermostat is situated exceeds a set temperature.  This saves energy as the boiler won’t be working when your home is warm enough.  You should set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature (normally around 21 degrees Celsius) whatever the weather.

Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs).  These are fitted to the radiator and are used to control the temperature in individual rooms.  They allow you to control the temperature of a room by changing the flow of hot water to the radiator.  If you do not use a room where a TRV is fitted you can turn the radiator off or down which will help to reduce your heating bill.

Boiler Thermostat. This controls the temperature of the water which is sent through the radiators.  Generally, this should be set to a high level to ensure that you can effectively control the temperature of your home using a thermostat and TRVs.

Hot Water Thermostat. This controls the temperature of the hot water you receive from taps and shower heads.  If you have a hot water tank the thermostat will normally be located on it.  If you have a combi boiler, which heats water as you need it and therefore doesn’t require a water tank, the thermostat will look like a dial and be situated on the front of the boiler.  Please note, to prevent the build-up of legionella bacteria the hot water temperature should be set to a minimum of 60 Celsius.

You can use our search facility at to find a local qualified and reputable heating engineer able to advise and install heating controls. Our online database allows you to search via a number of criteria including postcode, town or by specific business name.

You can learn about Smart Heating Controls by reading our blogpost: How smart are Smart Heating Controls?