We can all use energy more efficiently – only when we need to, and minimising waste. The 2007 UK National Energy Efficiency Action Plan outlines measures it estimates could save more than 272 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy by the end of 2016 – cutting UK energy use by about 18%.

If we consume less energy, we need to generate less. While new power stations aim to close the predicted UK energy gap by adding to supply, energy efficiency aims to close it by reducing demand. Improving energy efficiency is also the most cost-effective and immediate way to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions.

We can become more energy-efficient by:

  • Insulating buildings to prevent wasted heat
  • Using fixtures/appliances with a good energy efficiency rating
  • Using fixtures/appliances efficiently
  • Switching appliances off fully when not in use

Becoming energy-efficient may require major changes to our attitudes and habits, and some measures could involve significant upfront costs. The challenge is to develop a nationwide approach that will allow the UK to access huge potential energy savings.

Efficiency at home

Simple energy-efficiency measures will reduce wasted energy at home – cutting both your energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Saving Trust will advise you on how to do this.

In many homes, burning gas (a fossil fuel) supplies heating and hot water – but if your house is not well insulated, some of that energy will be wasted. Energy is also wasted when you heat empty rooms.

About a third of wasted heat is lost through walls, and about a quarter through the roof. Loft and cavity wall insulation will significantly reduce this, and you can also instal insulation on solid walls, under floors and around plumbing.

The energy needed to power the lights and electrical appliances in your home comes from a mix of sources – fossil fuels, nuclear power and renewables. Energy is wasted when you leave these switched on but not in use, or when you use appliances in an inefficient way (e.g. by leaving them on standby overnight).

Switching appliances off instead of leaving them on standby could reduce residential demand for electricity by as much as 8%. You should also switch off lights, televisions, computers and similar appliances when nobody is in the room.

To use appliances efficiently:

  • Run dishwashers/washing machines only when full, and on eco settings where available
  • Boil only as much water in the kettle as you actually need
  • Don’t leave fridge/freezer doors open
  • Turn down the central heating thermostat

Using appliances in an efficient way will be even more effective if the appliances themselves are designed to be energy-efficient.

The EU Energy Label must now be displayed on all white goods, air conditioners, lamps and light bulb packaging. On most appliances, the Label rates energy efficiency from A to G, where A is the most efficient. On fridges and freezers, the rating goes up to A++. Energy-saving light bulbs can produce the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs, but use up to 80% less electricity.

Smart meters

By 2020, the UK Government wants every home in England, Wales and Scotland to be fitted with a smart meter. Smart meters measure energy use at regular intervals and send the data to the energy supply company. The company can then bill their customers accurately without sending meter readers into their homes.

Smart meters also have in-home displays: you can monitor how much energy you use, and how much it will cost.

Zero-carbon homes

In its 2007 UK National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, the Government recommended that all new homes built in the UK should be zero-carbon by 2016 .

Various energy efficiency measures and on-site renewable microgeneration would be required to achieve this ambition. But 70% of homes that will still be standing in 2050 are already built, and have not been designed to be zero-carbon. In these homes, the attitudes and behaviour of their occupants will determine their energy efficiency.

Efficiency at work

The Carbon Trust, an organisation that helps businesses and the public sector to cut greenhouse gas emissions, estimates that UK businesses waste 10–20% of the energy they buy. Eliminating this waste would reduce demand for energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

Establishing a culture of energy efficiency in your workplace requires effort – getting colleagues to adopt new policies and procedures, releasing budget and resources to instal more efficient equipment. But the results will be worth it.

Simple changes can improve energy efficiency at work. Leaving equipment switched on or on standby overnight wastes energy. Open windows will force heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to work harder and increase the energy they consume. Lighting areas that are unoccupied or that have plenty of natural light also wastes energy.

Motivating people to behave in an energy-efficient way at work may also affect their behaviour at home – further improving the energy efficiency of the UK as a whole.


In large businesses, automating some energy efficiency measures could be more convenient and cost-effective than mobilising the entire workforce. For example, daylight and occupancy sensors can be used to switch off lighting when it is not needed. Optimum start/stop controllers or weather compensators can do the same for heating. Over the longer term, the cost of installing automation systems will often be recouped through energy savings.

Reducing energy consumption through efficiency is good for business – lowering energy bills and thus improving financial performance. Energy efficiency can also contribute to a better environmental performance. This may enhance perception of the business among customers and potential customers, especially if recognised with an ISO 14001 Environmental Management standard.

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