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Sanjay Bowry

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If you can't beat them, join them

Posted: 24/11/2013 21:52

So the saying goes "if you can't beat them, join them" and the latest raft of energy price hikes suggests now is the time for UK consumers to consider doing just that. We are a nation tired of being held to ransom by our energy bills - so has the time come to ditch our reliance on energy companies by becoming the bosses of our own energy supplies?

Five of the "Big Six" energy companies have announced considerable price increases and with the other likely to follow suit, the outlook for consumers is bleak. Fuel poverty is a very real concern and, according to the government's recent Public Attitudes Tracker poll, 48% of people in the UK are worried about paying their energy bills. This number will only increase as the impact of these latest hikes is reflected on our bank statements.

Too many homeowners are now faced with the decision of whether to heat or to eat while businesses - particularly those with high energy demands - are seeing their profit margins squeezed by spiralling energy overheads.

A typical energy bill is calculated by multiplying the number of units of energy used during a period by the cost of each unit. Now, it doesn't take a degree in mathematics to work out that this equation leaves most consumers with two options to reduce their bills - either manage their consumption or barter for a better price per unit.

The former - managing energy consumption - has been a hot topic for quite some time and much has been done to improve the efficiency of our homes and commercial premises. From loft and cavity wall installation to draught excluders and energy efficient light bulbs, today's homes and workplaces are considerably more efficient than they once were and consumers are now far more aware of limiting their energy consumption.

The latter - switching to and fixing a cheaper tariff - is possible to some extent, though the energy companies' co-ordinated approach to pricing means the window for avoiding these unprecedented price rises is closing quickly. A proportion of the population has tried and succeeded in fixing their tariffs and those people will save in the short term. The truth, however, is that without government intervention the rising cost of energy will ultimately catch-up with us all - well, all apart from a switched on minority.

While the energy equation seems fairly inflexible, a growing number of businesses and homeowners have removed themselves from the situation. These savvy consumers have watched from a distance as energy companies imposed their latest round of 'unavoidable' increases to their tariffs. These people have already taken matters into their own hands, started generating their own power and become the bosses of their own energy companies.

Renewable energy installations enable consumers to generate their own energy supply, therefore removing the "cost per unit" element of the energy bill equation. While much has been made of renewable technologies' 'green credentials' and the returns available through government incentive schemes, the reasons for adopting renewable technology have never been so compelling.

Why let the 'Big Six' dictate the price of energy when you can remove them from your equation by producing your own power? Renewable energy solutions are helping businesses and consumers fight back in the battle on fuel bills.

The same Public Attitudes Tracker poll found that three-quarters of people (76%) support the use of renewable energy sources to generate the UK's electricity, fuel and heat. The challenge for the sector is to convert this positive public sentiment into physical renewable installations, both commercial and residential.

Technological advances and the economy of scale have considerably reduced the cost of purchasing and fitting renewable installations and the efficiency of the technology means a typical installation can now repay its cost within five to seven years. Given the average lifespan of such technology is 20-25 years, consumers are left with years of 'free energy'.

Of course, the capital required to purchase the technology can be prohibitive to those most at risk of fuel poverty but strides are being taken to bring renewable technology within their reach. Housing associations are increasingly turning to renewables to safeguard their tenants from rising energy costs and this is a trend which must be supported - particularly for new housing stock. First Wessex recently committed £4.3 million to fitting solar panels onto 1000 of its affordable homes in the south of England, protecting those residents who would be hardest hit by the energy price hikes.

The time has come to take a stand against energy companies and the good news is that there are alternatives out there. The recession has put pressure on businesses and homeowners alike to carefully manage their outgoings yet these efforts are being undermined by the frequent and arguably unjustified hikes to essential products and services such as energy.

By taking matters into our own hands, we can remove ourselves from the mercy of those companies whose main concern is satisfying the needs of their shareholders. Renewable energy technology allows us to do just that.

 

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