Sunday, 19 October 2014

Energy switch

I have just started the process of switching my energy supplier again for gas and electricity. It should be a much quicker process now. Although nothing has happened for the last 2 weeks, because there is a 14 day cooling off period!

From the graph above you can see why I am switching. My current fixed price contract (annual cost shown in blue) was coming to an end and if I did nothing I would be moved onto the 'standard price' contract (in red) which would increase my bills by £251 a year (based on my actual consumption for the last year).

My current supplier is also offering a special deal. If I move to their 'Fix & Save 2' rate (in green) I will save £132 they say, but they mean I will make a saving compared to the standard rate, rather than my current rate. Actually it will still cost me £119 extra and I will be tied in for a year with a penalty for switching. Not really a saving after all then.

Although all the information I needed to work out the true cost was provided by my supplier, it would be easy to just assume that I was really going to save money and sign up. These energy companies can be tricky, although this is still an improvement. Previously you wouldn't realise the rate had increased until you had received a few higher bills.

MSE have a nifty tool The Cheap Energy Club that sends out alerts when there are cheaper energy deals that you can switch to. I have found it very easy to use. By comparing, I have switched to a deal called 'Blue' ( purple) that works out only £22 more than my existing rate, but I will get £30 cashback on top. My new deal is not the cheapest available, but it has given me a fixed rate for 2 years, with no penalty to leave it.

What are the chances that energy prices won't be rising over the next 2 years given that:
  1. There is a possibility of electricity shortages this winter, due to unplanned shutdowns on a couple of nuclear power stations and a few other unforeseen closures.
  2. Gas production in the UK is at it's lowest point, having peaked in 2000, and supplies only 50% of our gas consumption.
  3. Relations with Russia, the main gas supplier for Europe, are a touch frosty. Because we buy in a global market, any restrictions or price increases will affect wholesale prices throughout Europe, whether or not our gas is coming directly from Russia.
  4. Prices have been increasing by significantly more than inflation for the last 10 years.
  5. The current government has made no progress on tackling the huge profits that the energy companies make, though they have succeeded in significantly reducing the uptake of energy efficiency measures. Large scale take up of energy efficiency measures may lead to reduced demand, however high energy prices also reduce demand. The difference is that high prices hit the poor hardest and can lead to them being unable to afford to keep their homes warm, where as energy efficiency measures such as insulation means that keeping your home warm uses less energy and costs less.
For energy prices to remain stable over the next 2 years we would need very mild winters across Europe, an end to sanctions with Russia and no growth in demand for energy. Just looking at the last point, if the economy is growing, then energy consumption is increasing. This is because economic growth is about building more houses, expanding factory output, and increasing consumer spending on 'stuff' that is made with energy. No growth in energy consumption quite simply means no economic growth. That's not a popular suggestion (even less so than making up with Russia), hence why energy prices are almost guaranteed to rise over the next 2 years.

But wait......oil prices have been falling significantly, which signifies a drop in demand for oil. This could be one of the first indications that recession is starting to bite again (supported by the dive in share prices), so maybe no energy growth is a possibility?

Whatever happens, checking whether you can reduce your energy bills now, installing energy efficiency measures and taking advantage of subsidized or free solar panels will prepare you for the coming winter and help reduce costs.

Monday, 13 October 2014

World carbon emissions out of control

I am writing another post that has been triggered by a news article, only this time it is about climate change. The headline 'China's per capita carbon emissions overtake EU's' came as a bit of a shock.

'While the per capita average for the world as a whole is 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, China is now producing 7.2 tonnes per person, to the EU's 6.8 tonnes. The US is still far ahead on 16.5 tonnes per person.'

I was always led to believe that it was China's 1 tonne footprint, based on less consumer goods, lower energy consumption and higher bicycle usage, that we were meant to aspire to.  The chart below taken from Shrink That Footprint shows how things stood back in 2001.

In 2001 the carbon footprint for the whole world was 4 tonnes per person per year, so over the last 12 years, despite knowing that carbon emissions are causing catastrophic climate change, the world's footprint has increased to 5 tonnes per person. The actual carbon emissions are even worse than this, because there are an additional 1 billion people in the world now, who are all emitting 5 tonnes each too.

Why wasn't this the headline? World carbon emissions are still increasing wildly. Any pretence that carbon emissions are under control let alone decreasing is a farce!

So how could China's per capita carbon emissions overtake the EU, from such humble beginnings? That is an enormous change from 1.7 tonnes per person in 2001 to 7.2 tonnes in 2013.  I have mentioned previously, a large part of the increase in carbon emissions is a result of the shift in manufacturing industries from the West to China. So the largest increase in their emissions is from burning coal, to power factories, that are producing cheap goods for us.

Also emissions in the EU have decreased slightly, but that is mainly the other side of manufacturing industries moving to China and taking the energy consumption with them.

It is such a bad idea. Labour is cheaper in China because there is a lower standard of living and less regulations to protect the workers. So instead of keeping jobs in the EU, where there is a minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay, paid maternity leave, strict health and safety rules, regulations on pollution and pressure to reduce carbon emissions, companies have cut costs so that we can have more 'stuff' at a lower price.

Personally, I don't want more 'stuff' and when I do really need to buy something new, I aim to buy local products or EU as a minimum, so that I know no one has been exploited making it and my money helps to support local industries. This may mean paying higher prices, but that will just mean that I can't buy so much stuff. It also reduces shipping all round the world and hidden carbon emissions.

What the above article really made me question is why have I been basing my personal carbon reductions on 90% of the average American, when they are clearly the biggest carbon emitters. Using the formula that Sharon Astyk used in the Riot for Austerity, was relatively easy to understand and follow so it had some appeal, but in all honesty I personally wanted quite a generous starting point, to make my target easier. Making a 90% reduction seemed......overwhelming. Now I feel like not making a 90% reduction is overwhelming!

So from now on I am going to frame things differently, and continue to significantly reduce my carbon emissions.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

September blessings

I have a few half written posts waiting for me to finish, but felt inclined to post some pictures instead, which tell a bit of a story of the last few weeks. Some 'exciting' highlights include....

Freshly foraged oyster mushrooms on toasted brioche. (Had a bread shortage that day) OMG it was soooo delicious! Despite the exceptionally dry weather and parched ground, I spied the mushrooms on a shady log. Within 10 minutes I had got them home and fried them in some butter for my lunch. Since then, I have been walking the dog round all my mushroom spots in the hope of finding some more, but I think that will be all until it rains. My friend pointed out that I could always buy some oyster mushrooms from the supermarket to sate my cravings, but where is the fun in that?

Continuing on the simple food theme, I have been making roasted tomato sauce, which is a perfect base for pasta dishes or the beginnings of a delicious soup. It is based on something I saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall make in his River Cottage series, but it is always popular in our house because it gives a much sweeter sauce.

Put a variety of tomatoes in a roasting tin. The cherry tomatoes are home grown and the larger tomatoes are from the market. Stab them with a knife. Sprinkle them with salt, pepper and olive oil and pop in a medium hot oven. You can add herbs, onion or garlic too for a taste variation. I used a few sprigs of thyme. When it is cooled, whizz it up with a stick blender and season to taste.

I have also been blessed on the egg front too, having received a regular supply from a friend (Thanks Jo and girls) who keep their own hens. Aren't these the most beautiful coloured eggs ever? Anyone for Green Eggs and Ham? Her children even decorate the boxes :-) Could eggs get anymore fun than this?

We have green woodpeckers locally, but it was still a surprise to find this one perched on the tree just outside my kitchen door. You can just about make out the green body in the centre on the quick snapshot I took.

The house in the background has had PV panels fitted too - so many have been fitted in our area this summer! I am glad people are taking advantage of this incentive to reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions :-)

And finally here are two cakes I have made this summer to use up spare courgettes. The first is a recipe from North West Edible Life. Erica batch bakes this cake, so I had to reduce the quantities to a third to make just one loaf and there was still enough mixture left for a dozen buns.

It should have been doomed to failure, as I also had to calculate everything into metric units, so there were plenty of opportunities for mistakes. But it was a success. A very delicious, grown-up cake which works well with a carrot cake type topping.

My youngest daughter refused to try it because the mixture looked rather disagreeable and the cakes had green flecks in them, so there was no denying the courgette content. I have frozen individual slices that can be de-frosted as a quick treat.

The second cake was a chocolate cake by Not Just Greenfingers. Actually it should be a traybake, but as we had some strawberries and cream in the fridge it became a rather large layer cake at the last minute, with a crocodile smile! This was more successful with the kids, mainly because the courgettes were peeled and grated finely so no green lumps! It was a very moist chocolatey cake, but still incredibly light and fluffy. It didn't last long.

I have frozen some grated courgette and will definitely be making these again, so thanks very much for the recipes ladies :-)

Friday, 19 September 2014

No result

Oh well. Maybe we weren't ready for the earth-shattering event that a 'Yes' vote would have entailed.

No leaflet

It is still an eventful occasion. A few days ago the desperate Prime Minister of the UK, has pledged greater devolvement of power to Scotland. This is great for Scotland, but it will also have repercussions throughout our political system. For instance if Scotland can make a lot of their own decisions, should they still be able to have an influence on the rest of UK too?

What if they scrap the 'Bedroom' tax in Scotland, just as an example. Should the Scottish MPs still be able to influence the government's decision on these things in the rest of the UK? If not then it changes the balance of the current parliament, as there are a higher proportion of Labour MPs in Scotland, giving the conservatives more influence in the UK Government. This may make it more likely that England and Wales will keep the 'Bedroom' tax.

All this in the run up to the next general election......

And out of interest, how many of you had a discussion with friends, neighbours or even a stranger on the bus about the Scottish vote? It has really grabbed people's attention and everyone seems to have had an opinion. It seems there is a sense of community in talking about possible division :-)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scottish Referendum for Independence

It is only a matter of days now until the Scottish Referendum takes place. This is a momentous occasion when the people of Scotland get to decide democratically whether to be independent once more.
I have to admit that I have not paid much attention over the last few months, being English, and the decision clearly being one for the Scots to make. That was until I saw this headline "Scottish independence: Cameron, Clegg and Miliband make Scotland 'No' vote plea" on the BBC news website. (For those unfamiliar with British politics, these 3 are the leaders of the main political parties. But Scotland also has the Scottish National Party, which are the voice for independence.)

I haven't even read the article, but just the headline made me realise 2 things. One that the Scots Look likely to vote the way I expect them to - for independence. I always had the impression that they were dragged kicking and screaming into this 'United' Kingdom. Weren't they defeated at the Battle of Culloden and forced to accept English rule? My history is not great, but I am sure that there has been some mistreatment along the way. Even ignoring the history, they are outnumbered by the English 10:1 which means voting-wise they have a much weaker voice as part of the UK.

The second realisation is that the establishment is scared. Scared that Scotland will vote 'Aye' and become independent. The Prime Minister is in a desperate bid to influence Scottish voters, and is pulling out all the stops. Threats that food prices will go up are the latest.

Why is the PM so desperate now? This referendum has been on the cards for months, so it comes as no surprise. Maybe the PM was cocky enough to think that there was no chance of Scotland voting yes, so he has been stunned into action by the polls, which show the voting will be very close. Personally I think the PM's desperation has more to do with international pressure.

For one thing if Scotland becomes independent following this referendum, then surely the referendums held in other countries should be recognised too. Crimea thinks so. So does Catalonia. Who is to say that Texas won't be next at declaring Independence? In fact the Scottish vote for independence could trigger people to make their voices heard all over the World.

I like the idea of a referendum. It is giving people a choice about their future, when most decisions are made out of our hands. Like going to would be good to hold a referendum on that. Instead our PM can take us to war without allowing the MPs to vote on it, let alone giving the public a say.

Just as a reminder David Cameron's party received only 36% of the votes at the last election with a turnout of only 65% (10,703,000 votes out of 45,597,000 possible voters is only 23% overall). With less than a quarter of the voting population supporting him, I don't think he should have the power to decide to take us to war. Do you?

And I mention war, because it is very much on the cards right now. Even the Pope is talking about World War III. The decision seems to have already been made, but the UK government are looking for something that will persuade us to support them. Crying out 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' doesn't work any more.

If Scotland choose independence, it could complicate the UKs position in NATO and any plans for going to war in Syria or Iraq. This could delay or even prevent our involvement, or an escalation to WWIII.

So I have decided that I am a supporter of Scottish Independence. What about you?