By Deborah Burley

The supermarket’s Christmas aisles have been full since September, and like it or not, the festive season is fast approaching. At uSwitch we’ve been getting very excited about the possible stocking fillers from our online shop – we’ve got loads of small and quirky energy-efficient treats!  If you’ve still got lots of gifts to buy then have a look at our 2011 stocking suggestions…

Top  ten xmas stocking fillers…

POWERplus Bee

This is great for wrapping up and putting in a stocking. This small and cute keychain torch is powered by wind-up dynamo- so you won’t be short of light again. It also glows in the dark – great for when you can’t find your keys.

Complete Ecoballs kit

 The perfect gift for the eco-conscious.  Ecoballs are set to revolutionise the way we do our washing – there’s no need to add detergent, you can wash your clothes at a lower temperature; they’re kind to the environment and to your skin too. We’re full of Christmas cheer for these wonders.

Osun MushRoom Green ZERO charger

This nifty little gadget turns the power off from a charger when it’s finished charging the phone. An ideal gift for someone who likes to charge their phone overnight. As well as this, it’s small and stylish compared to other standby-off phone gadgets.

iGo powerXtender charger

Small, handy and perfect for your globe-trotting friends. This charger gives 10 hours extra talk time, 20 hours extra playing time or 28 hours of listening time for their gadgets.

The H20 Shower Radio

A novelty present for those who love singing in the shower, it uses water to power it so there’s no need for batteries.

POWERplus Dragonfly

Candles make lovely Christmas presents but why not go for something a little different this year? The POWERplus Dragonfly is a solar powered light which flickers like a candle – great for those cosy Christmas days.

POWERplus Leopard solar remote control

For those who have no time for batteries, or who always lose them down the back of the sofa – a lack of batteries certainly won’t stop you from watching the Queen’s speech this Christmas.

Sylvania LED colour changing BC golf ball light bulb

This quirky energy-saving  light bulb shines seven different colours and makes a great present for kids…or for adults wishing to relive their disco days!

Ecobutton

Got a computer obsessed friend? This will switch their computer into an energy-saving mode when they’re away from it. As well as this, it looks good too – what a great present.

Owl rechargeable battery pack AA/AAA

Batteries are a must on Christmas day and these OWL rechargeable batteries are long lasting and better for the environment than the disposable alternative.

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We’ve got a whole year to wait until the latest instalment of James Bond hits our cinema screens, so for those of you who really can’t wait that long, why not get all 007 at home? Sound odd? It won’t when you see our top five James Bond-style products.

Your Mission: To make your home as energy-efficient as possible and be the spy who killed household energy waste.


Danlers wall switch 

What could be slicker than the lights coming on when you walk into a room? The Danlers wall switch will save you energy and is essential for your  James Bond lifestyle…It also has a manual setting for when it’s time to relax with the James Bond impersonations.

Eton Scorpion

The super powerful, master-of-all outdoor gadgets, Eton Scorpian has a torch, USB charger and radio. (If you tried the shaken not stirred nonsense but it didn’t work for you, then there’s even a bottle opener for your beers.)

Powerxtender Charger

This is the gadget to charge your gadgets. Small but mighty, the iGo Powerxtender charger offers power to all your regular spy gadgets: up to 10 hours of extra talk time, 20 hours of playing time and 28 hours of listening.

energyEGG 

The energyEGG turns your appliances off when you leave the room, cutting your energy usage dramatically.  It means you don’t have to remember to turn the telly off before you embark on your mission – perfect for Bond, whose gadgets do all the hard for him.

H20 water powered alarm clock and thermometer

Every spy needs to keep a close eye on the time and the temperature so they can stay in control of their mission. With the H20 water powered alarm clock and a shower you won’t need batteries – it runs on water!

Barry Gardiner, Member of Parliament for Brent North and Ed Miliband Special Envoy for Climate Change

Barry Gardiner,  Member of Parliament for Brent North and Ed Miliband’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, tells us his views on the future of UK energy prices…

It is very simple. Rural households pay more for energy.

Rural households classed as being in “income poverty” are much more likely to be in fuel poverty than those in urban areas: 44 per cent of the “income poor” in rural areas live in fuel poverty compared to 26 per cent in urban areas.

These published figures are now more than three years out of date, and although we have no reliable current analysis all the evidence suggests things are getting worse.

In urban areas there are three well known causes of fuel poverty:

1. Poor energy efficiency performance of housing
2. Low income levels
3. High energy costs


In rural areas it is important to add a fourth: Lack of access to mains supply.

Out of every hundred rural homes 42 are not connected to mains gas, compared to 8 per cent in urban areas.

Rural households rely more heavily on oil and bottled gas to heat homes, the prices of which have both risen significantly over the course of the last few years. Rural households are also unable to take advantage of the dual fuel discounts which are offered by many energy suppliers.

Households cut off from mains access to energy simply pay more. The average heating bill for a three bedroom house using domestic fuel oil is 84% more than the cost of mains gas. For liquid petroleum gas (LPG) that figure rises to
130% more.

But homes that are “hard to heat” are often also “hard to treat”. Many rural houses have solid walls and these homes need more expensive internal and external solid wall insulation that is not currently included in Government Grant Schemes such as Warm Front.

In fact 34 per cent of homes in rural areas are classed as hard to treat and these account for over 50 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions from housing.

Any programme delivering energy efficiency measures in rural areas costs more due to greater distances between households and the inevitable loss of efficiencies that can be achieved in more densely populated urban areas. Warm Front has confirmed that even where householders were eligible for a grant, some people cancelled energy efficiency work because they were unable to pay top up costs.

Those living in rural areas were much more likely to cancel through an inability to meet the average top up bill of £875.

In fact up until 2008, cancellations of work in urban areas due to top up costs were 26.4 per cent, whilst in rural areas they were 73.6 per cent.

Between 2000 and 2008 only 10 per cent of Warm Front Grants were awarded in rural areas. This figure climbed to 15 per cent in 2008/09 but it is clear that even this rate of addressing the problem is wholly inadequate to meet the exceptional level of need in our rural communities.

We should be calling for major programmes to address rural fuel poverty. They must be specifically targeted to deliver insulation solutions for solid wall properties and, where insulation is not viable, government should work to deliver micro-generation and community based heating schemes to deliver lower cost alternatives to rural households.

By 2008 Germany had over 2,500 anaerobic digestion plants in rural areas. In the UK we had precisely 23.

Such a technology could be used to power energy generation at a community level in rural villages across the UK, taking by-products and waste from agriculture to provide bio-gas. Using this for local heat and power would provide new jobs in rural areas as well as delivering low cost heating solutions. DEFRA’s own analysis suggests that the UK’s 90million tonnes of agricultural arisings such as manure and slurry could power up to 20Tetra Watt hours of heat and power by 2020.

Do you agree with the MP or do you think there’s another solution? If you’re cut off from mains gas or know someone who is, share your stories with us in the comments below. 

by Deborah Burley

The government recently unveiled plans to cut feed-in tariffs by 50% in the next six weeks. It means that those with plans to fit solar panels to their homes will have to do it by the 12 December or else will only receive about half of the rates.

It means contracts that have already been signed for solar panels are getting cancelled by those less than happy with the ‘greenest government ever’’s announcement because the work won’t be done in time – others are expected to follow.

Is there still a future in solar panels?

Up until last week, the government stated that UK home owners would have until the 1 April 2012 to fit solar panels and still be eligible for the higher Feed in Tariff (FiT) payments.

It was a deal that many jumped on – with around 10,000 households joining up.
Now, after the change of plan from the coalition, that date has now been moved forward, prompting serious concern about the viability of an industry constructed around the Feed-in Tariff scheme that now contains over 25, 000 people. It may mean serious and unexpected job loss in a market that held such promise.

What next for FiTs?

Much anger and frustration had surrounded the government plans for FiTs. An industry protest is planned in Westminster on 22 November and Friends of the Earth have threatened a legal challenge should there be no reversal on the proposal, claiming that the government should be encouraging renewable energy instead of putting people off it.

The industry is working over-time to complete the already started installations by the 12 December or  the 43.4p per kWh initially promised will drop to just 21p per kWh.

Potential problems

As well as the obvious draw back to the government’s FiTs proposal, other barriers are becoming evident for those planning to earn from their solar panels.

Firstly, those in the middle of an installation may now discover that they have to have all relevant paperwork in by 5 December bringing the installation deadline forward even more, although this is by no means a blanket policy.

Feed in Tariffs – what you need to know

  • If you are having solar panels installed by the 12 December then you will be on a FiT  rate of 43.4p per kWh for the next 25 years.
  • If your installation falls between 12 December and 1 April, you will be on the FiT rate of 43.4p per kWh until 1 April when the rate drops to 21p per kWh.
  • If your solar panels are not fully installed until after 1 April, you are only eligible for the 21p per kWh rate.

How do the government’s FiT proposal affect you? Are you currently in the middle of installation or planning an installation for before or after the 12 December? Do you think it’ll still be worth setting up solar panels after you’ve made your home compliant with the energy-efficient measures? Do the new plans make little difference to you – it’s still good to be generating your own energy, right? Let us know your thoughts…