Energy efficiency: what it is and how to be more energy-efficient

12 February 2021 | Celia Topping

energy efficiency

“Energy efficiency” has become a buzzword for environmentalists, politicians, advertisers and energy companies alike. We hear it everywhere in these climate-conscious times – and with good reason. The amount of energy we use or waste has a direct impact on the environment, and on our wallets. Just by being conscious of our energy use and making a few simple tweaks, we can help save money and cut our carbon footprint

But what does energy efficiency really mean, why is it important, and how can we be more energy-efficient?

What is energy efficiency?

The energy we’re talking about is gas and electrical energy. Being energy-efficient is the opposite of wasting energy. It simply means using less energy to perform an action – like switching on a light, using your washing machine or heating your home

A classic example of an energy-efficient device is the simple lightbulb. Your traditional 60w incandescent bulb wastes most of its energy in heat – around 90%! But modern, energy-saving LED light bulbs use far less energy to create the same amount of light – with 90% of the energy being used for light. The very definition of energy efficiency!

And it’s not just bulbs that are energy-efficient. Every modern appliance, from TVs to tumble dryers are now energy efficient. Replacing old, inefficient appliances with energy-efficient ones can save you a lot of money. 

Check out our guide on how much electricity a home uses to see how much you could save.

Why is energy efficiency important?

Energy efficiency is playing an increasingly vital role in our lives, for 3 main reasons:

Why energy efficiency is good for the environment

Being environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient go hand-in-hand. The more energy we use, the more carbon emissions are pumped into the atmosphere. And as we know, too much carbon causes climate change. Being energy-efficient will cut your carbon footprint, save you money and make the world a better place for future generations. 

At OVO, we only use 100% renewable electricity1. Our fuel mix is sourced from solar, wind and hydro power – these burn no fossil fuels, and so no carbon is emitted. 

Get a quote in just 5 minutes and start saving hundreds of pounds and reducing your carbon emissions today! 

Why energy efficiency is beneficial for the global economy 

The global economy relies heavily on oil and gas – so as these resources dwindle, their cost increases. This causes financial imbalances around the world, and results in energy poverty in many areas of society. 

Why energy efficiency is good for your bank balance

Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for everyday necessities like heating and hot water – so it makes sense to be energy-efficient. Choosing energy-efficient appliances and products is a good start. But read on to find out many more ways you can cut costs by being energy-efficient

What is an energy rating?

Energy ratings are on everything these days, from washing machines to fridges and freezers. These little colour-coded bands of red, orange, yellow and green are an easy visual guide. They’re a way of measuring and showing how energy-efficient an appliance is, depending on how much energy it consumes – and they’re rated from red G (don’t buy it!) to green A+++ (fill yer boots!). The more efficient it is, the lower the running costs. Meaning a healthier bank balance, and a healthier planet. 

To find out more about Energy Performance Certificates (energy efficiency ratings for property), check out our comprehensive guide. 

How can I be more energy-efficient? OVO’s top 6 ways to save energy

The first place to start is to make sure all your electrical appliances work as efficiently as possible. With a few well-placed upgrades, you could save yourself hundreds of pounds in energy costs a year. This might mean some initial investment, but it will pay off in the long run. 

Here are a few other ideas to get you started:

1. Use less electricity 

Rule number one of saving electricity is: don’t leave appliances on standby. The Energy Saving Trust worked out the average home spends £35 a year just by leaving appliances on standby! Of course, you need to leave your fridge and freezer on full-time, and maybe your alarm system – and you may want to leave the TV or satellite box on, to record your favourite programmes from time to time. But for everything else electrical, switch them off at the wall when not in use. And we hope it goes without saying – remember to turn off the lights when you leave! 

Learn how to save more electricity at home, with our helpful guide. 

2. Upgrade your light bulbs 

As we’ve already mentioned, old-fashioned light bulbs are probably the least energy-efficient device in your home. Upgrade to LED energy-saving bulbs and start making savings immediately. Their superior technology, light quality and energy-saving credentials have changed the way we light our homes forever. 

Replacing those old incandescents could reduce your annual energy bill by as much as £37 – and cut 135 kg of CO2 off your carbon footprint. That’s about the same as using nearly 43 litres of petrol2

3. Choose energy-efficient appliances

Choosing an energy-efficient appliance is the fast-track to saving energy and money. Here are a few guides to point you in the right direction for the best energy efficient appliances for your home: 

4. Draught proof your home 

Insulation is a sure-fire way to make your home warmer and more energy-efficient, and reduce your energy bills. Much of what you can do is fairly inexpensive, and will pay off in a year or 2. Our guides can help you find out what’s affordable now, and what you can save up for:

5. Cut down the cost of heating your home

Hot water and heating make up around four-fifths of most fuel bills in the UK – so increasing the energy efficiency of your heating system can make a big difference to your utility bills.

If you’ve had your boiler for more than 15 years, it’s probably time to consider upgrading to a newer, more eco-friendly model. You could reduce your heating bills by up to a quarter if you replace a creaky old G-rated boiler with a new A-rated condensing boiler, and:

  • Make sure your thermostat and boiler are communicating properly
  • Fit individual thermostats on radiators
  • Get a control system that lets you switch off the heating remotely

By the way, it's also a good idea to bleed your radiators once a year, so they're working as efficiently as possible. Our guide will show you how to do it, and why a yearly radiator bleed can bring your heating costs down.

Think about other ways you might be able to heat your home more efficiently. Like installing underfloor heating, which could be more efficient than traditional radiators.

Or, for something bolder, install one of the latest low carbon heating technologies. And if money’s really no object, go the whole hog and build the most energy-efficient home ever – a Passive House

If you only need to keep one room warm, turn off the central heating altogether and check out our rundown of the most energy-efficient standalone heaters.

6. Use a smart meter and smart thermostat

Smart up your life, with these energy efficiency marvels. If you haven’t had a smart meter installed yet, then you really should. A smart meter and its little pal, the In-Home Display, are the most effective way to track your energy use and reduce bills.

Teamed with a smart thermostat, there’s no end to the energy saving you can do around your home!  This handy device will help you control your heating at the touch of a button. And depending on your heating setup, it can help make your home more energy-efficient, and save you money.

And if you want to see how you could use appliances at different use to cut your carbon, check out our guide to grid efficiency. Plus learn how to stay warm over winter without using so much heating.

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How energy-efficient are you? Calculating your energy efficiency

Are you a Super Green God/Goddess, or an Energy Loser? Find out in our Energy Efficiency Quiz..

1. Do you have mostly LEDs or traditional bulbs in your home?

a) LEDs everywhere. I swapped out the old ones a few years ago and I haven’t had to change one since.

b) Bit of a mix 

c) Good old 60 watts everywhere except the kitchen where I use 100 watts. I like it bright.

2. When you boil a kettle do you

a) Just use as much as you need 

b) It’s a bit random to be honest

c) Fill it every time

3. Do you own (and use) a smart meter

a) Yes, I use it with the IHD, to see where I can save energy

b) I own one, but don’t check it much

c) A what?

4. How warm do you keep your home in winter?

a) I’m quite careful and keep it to 20 degrees max, and zone my radiators

b) 20-22 degrees in all rooms

c) I like it tropical, 25 to 30

5. How do you wash and dry your laundry?

a) Full load, 30 degrees and hang dry

b) Mostly I fill it, use 40 degrees and sometimes hang dry or tumble dry

c) Stick in a towel or two at 60 and tumble dry

6. How many of your appliances are energy-rated?

a) All of them

b) Some, but not all

c) What’s energy-rated?

7. Do you switch it off at the wall?

a) Always

b) Sometimes, with some things

c) Switch what off where?

8. How do you use your dishwasher?

a) I fill it and use the eco wash

b) Mostly I fill it but sometimes I just do what’s around

c) I use it after every meal

  • Mostly a’s - You should be awarded OVO Green Star of Honour for Energy Efficiency (if there was one). Well done! You’re doing everything right to fight climate change and save yourself money at the same time. 
  • Mostly b’s - Pretty good, you know what you should be doing, but don’t always quite get there. A few more tweaks to your daily habits and you’ll be a Green God/Goddess in no time!
  • Mostly c’s - Oh may need a little help to realise how your everyday habits can impact the environment. Take a look at these 120 tips energy-saving tips for some inspiration! 

Energy efficiency vs energy conservation

What is the difference between these very similar terms? They are in fact quite distinct, though closely related. But they both relate to wasting fewer resources, and reducing our impact on the environment. 

Strictly speaking, energy efficiency involves technology – like many of the examples we’ve given above – such as using an LED light bulb instead of an incandescent. The LED uses less energy to produce the same amount of light as the incandescent. That’s energy efficiency!

Energy conservation is more concerned with behaviour – such as turning the lights off when you leave a room, or not leaving your appliances on standby. 

As you’ll have noticed, we’ve talked about both of these energy-saving methods throughout this article. See if you can spot which of these 120 energy-saving tips are energy efficient, and which are energy conserving! 

How can we help? 

OVO are all about saving energy, saving money and saving the planet. Here are some of the ways we help our members:

  • OVO Greenlight – a clever tool to help our members calculate the impact of their habits on the planet. 
  • Warm Home Discount – OVO is part of the scheme offering financial help towards energy bills for members on low income or pension.
  • tado° smart thermostat – get your hands on this fancy piece of kit and link it directly to your My OVO account. Our partnership with tado° will help OVO members to help cut heat waste and save money, with helpful tips. 

For more ideas on reducing your carbon footprint, and being energy-efficient, join OVO today. We offer:

  • 100% renewable electricity as standard3
  • A tree planted in your name every single year you are with us4
  • 3-5% Interest Rewards when your account’s in credit5
  • Award-winning smart meter experience (Uswitch 2020)
  • A £50 gift card every time an OVO member introduces a friend to us
  • 5 star rating by over 25,000 of our members

Sources and references:

The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work

2  Mike Berners-Lee ‘How bad are bananas?’ Profile Books Ltd 2010

The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work

Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.

 Interest Rewards are paid on credit balances of customers paying by monthly Direct Debit. It is calculated at 3% in your first year, 4% in your second year and 5% in your third year (and every year thereafter) if you pay by Direct Debit.

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