It's not easy bein' green

Userlevel 1

Updated on 19/08/20: Please be advised that we no longer offer the green add ons separately to OVO Beyond. Check out this topic for a guide on how to add OVO Beyond via your online account

In today's current climate (pun intended), a lot of people want to reduce their impact on the environment. We want to find out how you would go about it. If you could do only one of the following things tomorrow, which you would rather do:

A. offset your carbon footprint; or
B. make your house more energy efficient?

And don't forget to explain why!

10 replies

Userlevel 7
Badge +5
That's a very tricky dilemma @Jess_OVO,

Personally I'd opt for "B" because I'm a self-builder with practical experience of how to implement energy-efficiency measures.

I also have bad experience of Option "A". Shortly after the Kyoto Summit, I was on a business trip in some countries which will remain nameless in "Deepest, Darkest Africa", and met with several Chiefs in rural areas.

They told me they were building new amenities for their people because of the influx of cash from Western Nations wanting to purchase forested areas for carbon-offset. All sounded wonderful until I realised that the local government admin was so bad that the same tracts of forest had been sold-off multiple times to European companies! Aaagh!

I might also point out that UK housing stock is often very old and there needs to be a cost/benefit analysis before embarking on expensive energy-efficiency measures.

I know that Energy Suppliers like OVO have a levy placed on them whereby a %age of your revenue has to be directed at projects such as
  • Cavity-wall insulation
  • Lost insulation & top-ups to 250mm
  • Boiler replacement schemes
  • Solar-panel subsidies

However, most of the houses which would most readily benefit from these measures have long since been tackled, leaving only the ones where it's difficult to justify the expense.

In The South West there is a Trial Scheme "ZEBcat" to retro-fit energy efficient measures to some of these problematic properties.

It involves a prefabricated (made to measure) cladding being fitted to all external walls and roof. A "porch" comes pre-plumbed and wired with the domestic heating system.

At around £20k per terraced house, it's not cheap. However, the significant reduction in energy-bills is most beneficial for those living in Energy-Poverty in Housing Association properties.

The technique has been successfully developed by Energiesprong in Holland. It is craned into place and fitted to a house in just one day! But The Netherlands is further ahead in Domestic Energy Management than this country. They have even just banned the building of new houses with gas heating/cooking because their Building Regulations are so much tighter than ours for energy conservation.

Even if the ZEBcatTrial demonstrates that the long-term efficiencies are viable, it remains to be seen whether funding can be found for such a scheme in the UK post-Brexit.
Userlevel 1
Thanks @Transparent ! I'd never heard of the ZEBcat scheme or Energiesprong, so very excited to do some digging!

It sounds like you are a seasoned veteran in reducing your impact on the environment. If you wouldn't mind sharing, we would love to hear about some of the other measures you've taken in your life to help mitigate climate change.

Thanks again!

Userlevel 4
Personally I would go for B
Over the years I have been progressively improving the energy efficiency of my house; cavity wall insulation, double glazing, roof insulation, LED bulbs, efficient boiler and always choosing an energy efficient replacement for old white goods. I also record (in kWh) my daily electricity and gas consumption such that I can easily spot energy usage trends.
In addition I have solar panels and drive a PHEV.
An aspect of energy efficiency often overlooked is the positive benefits from growing one's own vegetables and supporting local farm shops where possible and thus not contributing to the thousands of food miles clocked up by supermarkets.
I am happy to be a OVO customer as unusually in the energy market OVO appear to be genuinely concerned about climate change.
Userlevel 1
Hey @UC Bear thanks for this!

Really interesting point about growing one's own vegetables and supporting local farm shops. How did you get in to this? Have you always grown your own? Or is this something you picked up relatively recently? Anything you'd recommend to someone who is just starting out?

Userlevel 7
Badge +5
@Jess_OVO wrote:
It sounds like you are a seasoned veteran in reducing your impact on the environment. If you wouldn't mind sharing, we would love to hear about some of the other measures you've taken in your life to help mitigate climate change.

Wow... in my (entire) life?

Well, I've worked in rural areas of the Developing World, and experienced first hand how to save precious energy and resources. Those who live below the threshold of absolute poverty have much to teach about living within the means of this planet to support us!

However, I fear it would take too long to expand on that subject here.

Returning to practical matters which could more directly affect Western-based readers of this Forum:-

I have been undertaking self-build and renovation works for several decades. Within the last 4 years I've done a single-storey SIP building project for a relative. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) have amazing levels of insulation and require minimal energy to heat them.

I'm now extending and renovating a 1930's West Country farmhouse. It had been built with the principle rooms facing north and had no insulation whatsoever!

I've added an extension to switch the house around, bringing the main living areas to the south. This now has a massive "cat-slide" roof spanning three-storeys, the centre section of which is 24sq.m of glass providing passive solar-gain.

The house internally is part home and part construction-site (work in progress!).

Thus far, with mixed fortunes, I have installed:
  • Insulated roof (warm-roof construction)
  • 12v off-grid solar for alarms, phone, WiFi, door-locks
  • Wind turbine (24v 1.5kW) feeding lead-acid battery array
  • SolarPV (24v 240w) to same battery array
  • Basic dedicated 24v LED (white) lighting. Ie not just LED bulbs in standard fittings!
  • Insulated flooring (suspended & solid) with under-floor heating (UFH)
  • Thermal store (300ltr) for hot-water and UFH
  • Thermal solar panel (30 evacuated tube array)
  • Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) throughout the house
  • Light tunnel (for central area)
  • New well-pump (no mains water) with pH regulation & UV treatment

I'm now developing more technically-advanced off-grid LED lighting system with concealed sensor systems.

Despite the satisfaction of being able to have such a massed installation of renewable-energy and innovative technology within my house, my two main bits of advice for others would be:

A. Join in with a local group of others with whom you can discuss and share ideas. I'm a member of the local Transition Towns group who run an annual Energy Fair.

B. Spend more of your funds on energy conservation (insulation) rather than on energy generation (solar/wind etc).

I can obviously elaborate on any of the above if others wish to know more!
Userlevel 4
@Jess_OVO As a member of I'd have to say retrofit. But it has to be done properly, insulation and ventilation must go hand in hand, and attention to detail is paramount, or the health of the building will deteriorate. Unfortunately there aren't nearly enough tradesmen around who've been trained to do the job properly, but plenty of companies who will sell you solar panels. And as @Transparent says, far better to improve the fabric of your home before adding solar panels etc. I've got cavity wall insulation on the walls that have fillable cavities, led lighting and a new boiler, and am currently getting quotes to insulate the remaining walls, improve the ventilation and replace some old double glazed windows with triple glazed windows.
Userlevel 4
I was raised in Devon and fresh seasonal vegetables from either my Granddad's allotment or my father's garden is what I grew up with. I never considered The climatic impact of growing my own vegetables, initially it was all about the taste, freshness and convenience. Over the last few years I have become more aware of the impact of climate change and feel determined to do what I can to help the planet. it is therefore serendipitous that what I was already doing also happens to have a small impact on climate change but as they say "every little helps". I also refuse to use garden chemicals (their production produces CO2 and can harm the environment) and have given over a section of my garden to nature.
Userlevel 7
Badge +5
I agree with @SianiAnni that there aren't enough proficient tradesmen to properly install insulation. As she says, the detail is paramount.

The most common form of insulation is in the loft/attic, where it lies between and across the ceiling joists. Building Regulations currently specify 250mm (10-inches) depth of mineral-wool.

Most often this is incorrectly fitted where the rafters meet the wall plate (the timber running along the top of the inner-leaf of the wall). There are two main mistakes:

A. the insulation roll gets pushed into this space, completely blocking the air-flow into the attic. A spacer should be fitted to maintain ventilation flow;

B. the insulation isn't pushed into the tight space at all, leaving an uninsulated zone around the edges where the ceilings meet the outside walls.

Here's a graphic from the website of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) showing the correct installation strategy:

I have never yet seen this attention to detail, even in a professional installation, paid for without government subsidies. Home-owners rarely check the quality of the work they have commissioned.

Also I must correct a figure I gave in my first post above: The cost of a ZEBcat upgrade for a typical terraced house is around £100k, not £20k(!).

Bear in mind that £100k is close to the total new-build price (excluding plot-value) for such a house. So the only real advantage is that ZEBcat can be fitted in a single day without the occupants moving out. Otherwise it would be best to demolish the terrace and erect a brand new super-insulated row of houses using SIP construction techniques.
Userlevel 5
😎 I would feel I was having some direct impact.
Too cynical of A) as it feels like paying a bribe to some corporation to clear my conscience. As mentioned above, who knows where the money is being spent!
@Jess_OVO I have signed up for your various green plans but only just today had a look at the various ways you offset my carbon emissions. I have to say I agree with everyone else here. I am not in the same bracket in terms of self-build or modifications (I have a well insulated, new home). However, I do think OVO could do more to help customers investigate and reduce their energy usage/carbon output.

With electricity it's clearly a bit easier as we are able to indirectly invest to encourage more renewable electricity generation. However, with central heating being the biggest cause of carbon emissions in the average UK home it would make sense to me if OVO could help me to make reductions in my usage. As an example, I recently installed a smart thermostat (believing the marketing that will help to reduce my energy usage). However, it's VERY difficult for me to work out if it's having a +ve or -ve impact. Your usage reports are great but it's not easy to see how something like this has affected my usage.

If you could use your insight gained from customers with and without modifications, perhaps you could better inform and encourage customers how they can reduce their energy usage? Ultimately, that has to be better than limiting development or investing in (potentially) questionable guilt-reduction schemes which ultimately result in an inadequate reduction in actual carbon emissions. My point being, perhaps it would be "easier" with a little more work to gain REAL, measurable and reportable carbon emission reductions by helping to change your customers' behavior than by controlling or restricting "normal" human development in poorer communities? You could use your actual customer data to better prove the impact you are having.

I can see for OVO Option A is important because it's quick and easy to implement and, potentially, Option B could affect your bottom line. However, perhaps encouraging, measuring and reporting your impact on Option B might actually earn you more customers. Having read a little more about option A, I am now feeling much more uneasy about it.

I have certainly made my decision for energy supplier based on which energy company can help me reduce my emissions the most effectively. I would still like OVO to take it to the next level and help me even more.