[Updated Aug 2023 with actual results of savings for period August 2022 to August 2023 – skip to end for results.]
2022 is the year of the world energy crisis. The cost of gas and electricity has skyrocketed. From the COVID-19 pandemic crisis over the last two years we have moved to Putin’s Ukraine annexation crisis and linked to that we now have a world fuel crisis – exacerbated by the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere. The big issue is the increase in the price of natural gas.
Russia is a key global gas exporter accounting for about 14% of the global market. “Putin the bully” is, as expected, using the supply of natural gas as part of his economic warfare strategy to inflict pain and get his way. It hasn’t helped, that Europe, over the last thirty years following the end of the cold war has relaxed its guard and become totally dependent on Russian natural gas, and, did not have a back-up supplier. With Putin cutting off the supply of gas to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 & 2 gas pipelines the price of natural gas has sky rocketed as Europe sought alternative supply from the USA and the Middle East.
Heating ones home in winter is not an issue for Bajans in Barbados. The International Energy Agency ranks Barbados third in the world in the penetration of solar water heaters per 1,000 population. In addition Barbados Light & Power and Bajans at large have been been investing in solar photovoltaic (PV) power that converts sunlight into electrical energy. Bajan James Husbands, the CEO and founder of local firm Solar Dynamics is a world leader in the production of solar water heating technology and solar photovoltaic panels. It is estimated that the use of solar products in Barbados saves the island some 130,000 barrels of oil annually! Not to mention that Solar Dynamics is a major Foreign Exchange earner!
In addition to harnessing the power of the sun, Barbados has been partially shielded from the impact of the full increases of refined petroleum products. The Barbados Government has capped the retail prices of gasoline at BB$4.48 and diesel at BB$4.03 per litre. In October 2022 the price of gasoline dropped to BB$4.14 per litre, a decrease of 12 cents, while diesel is now BB$3.90 per litre, a reduction of four cents. Kerosene has gone down by two cents and cost BB$2.14 per litre. The retail price of the liquefied petroleum gas is now BB$169.63 for a 100-lb cylinder; BB$47.51 for a 25-lb cylinder; BB$41.97 for the 22-lb cylinder, and BB$38.16 for a 20-lb cylinder. (source: loopnews.com 3 October 2022)
Heating ones home in winter is a BIG issue for more than half of the BajanThings subscribers – generally expat Bajans who live in: Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the USA.
Cutting household fuel and energy cost this winter will be important as disposable income has not kept up with inflation nor the rise in the cost of fuel whether that is gasoline, diesel, electricity or gas. The UK like other northern and southern hemisphere, temperate, countries is now being hit post COVID-19 by spiralling inflation and what is generally classed as: “fuel poverty”.
The cost of heating in Europe has tripled due to Putin’s War in the Ukraine and the strangle hold Russia has on the supply of gas to Europe. It’s simply a case of supply and demand. The supply of Russian gas to Europe has been reduced and the price has shot up to compensate for the lack of supply.
Here in the UK where I live we are very fortunate in that we live in a super-insulated home, we built in 2018.
In the UK, domestic energy prices have moved from being capped annually to being capped every 6 months. Between September 2019 and October 2022 our combined electricity and gas bill has jumped nearly four times! The really big jumps in the cost of energy was in March 2022 and October 2022. That was on the back of the Russia’s invasion Ukraine on 24th February 2022 in an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War which began in 2014. We expect another major jump in March 2023.
Our jump in gas and electricity domestic energy charges from September 2019 to :
- September 2020 was 1.19 times September 2019.
- October 2021 was 1.65 times September 2019.
- March 2022 was 2.28 times September 2019.
- October 2022 was 3.96 times September 2019.
- March 2023 is anticipated to be 5+ times September 2019 [looking back it remained at the October 2022 level of 3.96 times].
To put this in perspective below is a graph using ofgen data for a typical UK household using gas and electricity from the same supplier, known as a ‘dual fuel tariff’ who pay by Direct Debit. [Updated Aug 2023]
Back in March 2022 when the writing was on the wall that energy prices were going to skyrocket we decided to do a deep analysis of our energy and fuel use. What we have been able to do is put in place some measures to help combat the cost rises that came in October 2022 by reducing our consumption of gas and electricity so as to maintain our household energy costs at the March 2022 levels. So as cost go up we have looked at ways of reducing our energy measured in kWh.
We expect that in March 2023 there will be another BIG hike in prices. For that hike, we will be unable to make any more savings (except maybe some very, very marginal ones). The options in March 2023 will be: pay the increased price, turn off the heating for longer periods, wrap up more and add clothing layers or some combination!
We are a four person household with two teenagers with lots of sports kit to be washed.
We live in a modern super-insulated house. Our lighting is via LED, and the big users of electricity in the house is the Fridge/Freezer, oven, washing machine and tumble drier. Our heating and hot water is gas powered as is our cooking hob.
Analysis of our energy bills was that our electricity cost were fairly stable from season to season. The big, BIG, fluctuating cost was gas, mainly used for winter heating.
In the UK the unit cost of Electricity has risen but not as much as the unit cost of gas. The reason for this is that in the UK about half of the electricity power stations are gas powered, so increases in the global cost of gas directly impact the cost of electricity.
We looked at both our electricity and gas fuel usage and we looked at the number of kWh used per day and compared this to quarterly electricity and gas meter reading data we had going back to 2019, and to specific meter readings while we were doing our analysis of say washing machine use and tumbler drier use.
Listed below is what we have done to stabilise our winter 2022/2023 fuel cost. Based on these actions we believe we can keep the price hike of October 2022 to the price hike of March 2022. In fact, we think, we can keep the price hike below the March 2022 figure. We will report back at the end of the 2022/2023 winter.
Health Warning: It does take some serious discipline and nagging of the teenagers and behaviour changes to implement. Susan, my wife would add nagging of me too, to: close doors and turn-off lights!
Our house is noticeably cooler requiring instead of just wearing a shirt/t-shirt when inside, that one wears a shirt and jumper, and rather than being bare footed that slippers or woolly socks are worn!
Rugging up is the price of reducing our winter heating cost. Kids not happy/not impressed!
Electricity fuel cost
We started with the low hanging fruit and seeing if we could incrementally shave some cost off the electricity bill by reducing our electricity kWh usage.
- Lights. We are now very focused on turning off lights as we leave rooms.
- Washing machine and tumble drier. Our tumble drier is now a last resort. We used to use it to mainly dry the towels and make them fluffy. Everyone has just had to get used to stiff towels. With the washing we are much more focused on doing full loads and running the machine on economy mode which can add an hour to the cycle time. And where possible we do most washes on 30°C.
Turing off lights and being more efficient with the use of the washing machine and minimising the use of the tumble dryer has already helped drop weekly electricity use of the household. Its not a BIG decrease. It’s an incremental decrease. Combined it all helps.
There are some other marginal tweaks we can still do, but have not as yet: such as physically turning off things like TVs that appear off, but are in standby mode, unplugging laptop and phone chargers etc. Our next investment will be some smart plugs that show on your phone the energy usage of a given plugged in appliance – when I last checked there was no stock, these smart plugs have been flying off the shelves as people look to do what we have been doing and analyse power consumption.
Gas fuel cost
Our use of gas for heating is where we have seen the biggest savings by reducing our gas kWh usage.
Downstairs we have underfloor heating. Upstairs we have radiators. In the bathrooms we have towel rail radiators. Hot water is via a big insulated tank that is heated via an internal heating coil off the boiler. This is what has worked for us:
- Thermostats. We have a combination of room thermostats and on radiator thermostats. In all rooms we have lowered the temperature by -1°C. The exception was with our underfloor heating where in the morning we have increased the temperature by +1°C so the floor gives off heat for a longer period. The latter was suggested by our plumber when he was doing our annual boiler service in July 2022 and I was discussing with him the measures we were taking to cut cost.
- On-off times. The boiler has multiple circuits and each of these has a timer for controlling when each circuit comes on and off. We have tweaked the on-off times and have reduced the “on” time by about 2 hours per day on average across for all the circuits. The one circuit that had much more drastic action was the towel rail circuit which has been re-programmed to match usage times plus an hour, mornings and evening to dry out the towels.
- Boiler out-put temperature. We have saved cost by implementing the first two actions: by lowering the temperature we heat the house by 1°C and by reducing the time we heat the house for. We have further reduced the savings by tweaking the boiler out-put temperature – proceed here with care.
Our boiler is a Bosch Worcester Greenstar 8,000 50kW condensing gas-fired boiler with a Siprotech low loss header. The low loss header is a key part of our boiler system design and increases the boiler efficiency by blending the temperature of the water flowing though the flow and return circuits. The out of the box, default boiler out-put temperature is 80°C.
Adjusting the out-put temperature is a fine balance as the boiler is juggling three different things:
(1) its is heating the water in the hot water cylinder. The hot water in the tank should be between 55°C – 65°C. This is key for efficiency and health reasons. If the water in the hot water tank is BELOW 55°C then there is the potential of legionella bacteria in the system, and above 65°C it promotes scale. 60°C is the optimum temperature but your boiler needs to be putting out enough heat to factor in secondary temperature losses. This is not really an issue for us as the boiler and the hot water tank are adjacent to each other.
(2) its is providing the underfloor heating. This is designed and functions best at around 55°C – 60°C and has an additional blending valves built into the manifold to ensure this. The blending valve will mix the flow and return temperature from the underfloor heating coils to ensure the correct balance. This means there is more heat coming back on the primary flow and can help the system maintain a close balance of heat between the flow and return.
(3) its is heating the water flowing though the radiators. Best efficiency is between 65°C – 75°C to ensure the radiators heat up quick enough to efficiently heat the space. Radiators in our house are only upstairs and as our house is super-insulated so we gain from the fact that heat rises and the radiators upstairs are controlled by thermostatic radiator valves (TVRs) and only come on, for very short periods to boost the room temperature!
On top of this, in the winter, we have the impact of the outside temperature and how much additional heating is required to warm the house. It is a fine fine balance. We have opted for three states:
State One – Summer operation (underfloor heating and radiators turned OFF): To protect against legionella bacteria we reset the out-put temperature to 60°C. What we found was when you have a shower or a bath you now need less cold water for the mixer taps. The water in the tank is hot, but not as hot as it used to be – which means there is the potential of running out of hot water. What we have found is if we have guests staying and more than four in the house then we need to bump the boiler out-put temperature up to 65°C.
State Two – Winter operation (underfloor heating and radiators turned ON – outside temperature above 5°C): As the outside temperature drops to 5°C the mathematics for boiler heat output suggest we will need to increase the out-put temperature to 65°C to maintain the 20°C difference between the flow and return as the radiators and underfloor heating start emitting heat and that heat is transferred from the boiler to areas within the house.
State Three – Winter operation (underfloor heating and radiators turned ON – outside temperature below 5°C): As the outside temperature drops to freezing and the radiators and underfloor heating start emitting more heat we may need to bump up the out-put temperature to 70°C to compensate for the additional work of the boiler. Time will tell as we adjust theory with practical learning.
- Room usage. I am not one for closing doors in the house. My wife thinks that is a West Indian thing! We have implemented a new set of protocols – when a room is not in use we close the door to maintain the heat within.
Health Warning – Boiler out-put temperature: Turning down the boiler out-put temperature can save you money but turning it down TOO much can:
- creates a health risk (legionella bacteria can form if the hot water in the tank is below 55°C).
- make the boiler less efficient and shorten its life.
- stop the heating system working if the design temperature differential between the primary and secondary circuits (especially in the middle of winter when the outside temperature drops below 5°C).
If you opt to tweak your boiler out-put temperature – proceed with caution! This is why we have opted for three states which all require a little manual intervention:
- State One – Summer operation (underfloor heating and radiators turned OFF),
- State Two – Winter operation (underfloor heating and radiators turned ON – outside temperature above 5°C), and
- State Three – Winter operation (underfloor heating and radiators turned ON – outside temperature below 5°C).
Tweaking your boiler’s out-put temperature is a fine balancing act – proceed with care. If in doubt check with your boiler manufacturer or local boiler specialist.
These simple measures mean we have stabilised our energy cost increases and have maintained our energy payments at the March 2022 level. Unfortunately this is a near once-off saving. We have now got most of the saving we can get out of our heating system in terms of our kWh usage.
Come March 2023 the only way to cut cost will be to turn-off the heating for longer periods and/or rugging-up / laying-up more (which is hard for us tropical islanders).
Keep warm during the 2022/2023 winter – we will get back with an update…
August 2023 update (original post was written in November 2022, at the start of the 2022/2023 winter)
So did we achieve our objective? The resounding answer is: YES. YES. YES.
For the 2022/2023 winter we lived in a less tropically warm house and we survived!
Electricity usage: We knew we wouldn’t be able to make huge saving with our electricity usage. Focusing on turning off lights and a more structured use of the washing machine and tumble drier we have been able to reduce our annualised kWh electricity usage.
If we look back to August 2021 – we have reduced the our electricity usage measured in kWh by 5%.
Gas usage: We have been pretty successful in cutting our gas usage. The house is no longer tropical in temperature and we think for the 2023/2024 winter we can shave a bit more off our gas usage by reducing the internal temperature by another -1°C. So a total reduction of -2°C. Rugging-up / layering-up was not such a hardship!
We were able to initially reduce our kWh usage of gas. Following some more tweaking we able to further reduce our kWh usage of gas. There is a bit of fiddling around to be done as detailed above on seasonal changes to the boiler out-put temperature based on the outside temperature and whether we have guests staying.
The key learning is that if we have guests in the house we generally need to bump the boiler out-put temperature up by +5°C so that we don’t run out of hot water! By reducing the boiler output temperature, it means the water in the hot water tank is little cooler so if you are having a shower or bath you use more hot water as there is less need to add cold water via the mixer…. ipso facto if there are more people in the house the hot water tank does not go as far as it used to go when the output temperature of the boiler was at its default value of 80°C!
If we look back to August 2021 – we have reduced the our gas usage measured in kWh by a whopping 35%!
We are on a variable tariff for Gas and Electricity – so as our energy unit rates go up when wholesale energy rates go up and they come down when wholesale energy rates come down – but they never appear to come down as quickly as they go up!
With the measures we have implemented we have reduced our Electricity usage by 5% and Gas usage by 35% measured in kWh.
During the winter of 2021/2022 with the severe spike in energy cost at the beginning of the Ukraine / Russian War (Russia’s “special military operation” against Ukraine commenced on: 22nd February 2022) and for the 2022/2023 winter, we were able to maintain our actual monthly energy cost by reducing our Gas usage.
Now that energy cost have fallen, given the measures we implemented, we are in a very happy place and are now tracking at below what we used to pay in October 2021!
For the winter of 2023/2024, we are unlikely to be able to shave much off our Electricity usage, however, we think we can incrementally shave a little bit more off our Gas usage by lowering the internal temperature by maybe another -1°C!… so a drop of -2°C in total. The kids will not like this as they will not be able to walk around the house in shorts and T-shirts as if they still lived in tropical Asia!
When we built our house in 2018 our intention was to put solar water heater panels on the roof as our roof is SW facing. We ran out of money to do that! That now seems like it will be a great investment to reduce our Gas heating further.