Smart energy meters in every UK home by 2020

Consumers to benefit from savings achieved through increased awareness of energy use but householders likely to pick up some of the costs of the compulsory, nationwide scheme smart meters will work with real-time energy displays showing energy use around the home.

Every home in the UK must be fitted with a “smart meter” by 2020 to reduce energy use and pave the way for a low-carbon “smart grid”, under plans unveiled by the government.

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The new meters will send information on real-time electricity and gas use in households and small businesses direct to utility companies, eliminating the need for customers to stay at home for meter readings or to receive over-estimated bills. However, consumers are likely to pick up some of the costs of the compulsory, nationwide scheme.

The government estimates putting smart meters in the country’s 26m homes could save customers and energy companies £2.5bn-£3.6bn over the next 20 years, but says it will cost more than double this to buy and install the equipment.

Launching a consultation on how the smart meters should be rolled out, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) claimed the scheme will be the biggest smart meter project in the world.
“The meters most of us have in our homes were designed for a different age, before climate change,” said Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary. “Now we need to get smarter with our energy … so it’s important we design a system that brings best value to everyone involved.”

Energy companies welcomed the switch, which will reduce their running costs by making meter readers obsolete and eliminating the customer service time spent on dealing with estimated bills. Consumers and small business owners could benefit from savings achieved through increased awareness of their energy use. Previous studies have shown that smart meters encourage homeowners to cut their energy use by 3-15%, although experts warn that the technology requires consumer education and is not an “install and forget” energy-efficiency measure like loft insulation for new loft conversions.

Consumer groups warned that homeowners should not have to shoulder heavy costs for the new meters. Replacing today’s meters by the end of 2020 is expected to cost £8.11bn under the government’s preferred plan, with utility companies paying upfront, but able to pass on the charge. “Bill-payers have been suffering for many years from ever-increasing bills, so I hope the cost of the scheme – up to £340 for every household – won’t wholly be put at their feet,” said Scott Byrom, utilities manager at Moneysupermarket.com.

The Energy Retail Association – which represents the major electricity and gas companies – said that smart meters will be “cost-neutral” to customers because the savings to its members will part-fund the roll out.

Smart meters will also play a key role in helping the government meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets of at least 34% by 2020. The meters make it easier for householders to sell power they generate through wind and solar back to the grid. They will also allow suppliers to smooth the peaks and troughs of UK electricity demand by offering cheaper electricity at times of low demand, and increasing the price when demand is high. Reducing peak demand means fewer power stations need to be on standby, thereby cutting carbon emissions.

Ultimately, smart meters will allow the electricity used by domestic appliances to be “dynamically” managed. This would mean switching off refrigerators for a few minutes at times of high demand, or using plugged-in electric vehicles to store power. This flexibility is crucial if a significant amount of clean, renewable energy is to be supplied from harnessing the sun, wind and waves, all of which vary with the weather. A government report last year suggested such “demand management” technology could save 2m tonnes of CO2 a year.

Environmental campaigners and opposition politicians warned that the 2020 timetable was not fast enough. The shadow energy and climate change secretary, Greg Clark, said: “In other countries around the world, smart meters are being rolled out now. Ten years [to install] a technology that’s already available seems very leisurely considering the urgency of climate change.” However, consultants Ernst & Young noted that even fitting 2.6m homes with meters every until 2020 was “challenging”. Moreover, many campaigners say that consumers can save far more money (and energy) by getting a new boiler installation anyway.

Three plans are under consideration for the nationwide roll-out of smart meters. The first sees utilities take on all responsibilities, including supply and installation, plus the data management. The second – the government’s preferred model – has energy suppliers responsible for the meters, but with a new third party body handling the energy data. A third scenario envisages setting up a new organisation to oversee both the meters and data management.

Smart meter trials are already under way around the country through energy companies including British Gas and Npower, and smaller suppliers such as First Utility already supply smart meters as standard. The first smart meters installed under the government’s new plans are expected to arrive in 2012.

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.

Housing shortage raising house prices

The value of UK homes has risen by £39 billion this year, after slumping £811 billion in 2008, figures from Zoopla, a leading property website, show.

It said that the value of the average home has been rising £4 a day and is currently worth £205,591, up 0.7 per cent on a year ago. The value of the average home fell by £86 a day in 2008.

The figures support further evidence of a rebounding housing market from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which said the proportion of estate agents reporting an increase rather than a decrease in house prices was at its highest for three years.

More than a third of surveyors reported rising rather than falling prices in the past three months, up from 34 per cent in October and the highest quarterly reading since November 2006.

The rise in house prices recorded over the last nine months has been attributed to a shortage of sellers in the market, fuelling fears that prices will fall again in the new year when more housing stock is made available. Housing experts expect prices to slip by up to 10 per cent in 2010.

Nicholas Leeming, commercial director of Zoopla.co.uk, said: “2008 was undoubtedly the annus horribilis for homeowners. But, property prices have stabilised this year, rising gradually since April after a fairly weak first quarter.

“We are still a long way from the values seen before the recession took hold, but the housing market has not worsened in 2009 as some had feared and recovery signs are starting to take hold.”

He added, “The basic rules still apply; if you improve your home with a new kitchen or new bathroom you will get much more money from your house sale, than it will cost you to do the work. Now is the time to commission that loft conversion or home extension you were always considering.”

he total value of housing stock in the UK is currently £5.3 trillion, according to Zoopla, still considerably lower than the peak in 2007 of £6.1 trillion. Prices in England have shown the biggest increase, with a 0.9 per cent rise in the last year. However, house prices in Wales continued to fall by 2.5 per cent.

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.

Children with an eye for design for public places

Designers have praised contributions to public design projects from children and young people, saying they inject fresh new ideas and a different perspective.

A new project targeted at children aged between nine and 14 shows the value designers attach to young people’s involvement in public design. Space Shapers 9-14, developed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and Beam with The Architecture Centre in Bristol and the Kent Architecture Centre, aims to explore how young people feel about different public spaces. The project, launched last week by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls, encourages young people to assess how they feel about an existing space, and suggest changes.

The 14 pilot projects already in place have shown that children have a great sense of community pride and empathy, according to Cabe programme officer Hannah Loizos. ‘Children are generally very keen to make the space work for the whole community,’ she says. ‘Adults don’t often feel as comfortable doing that. Children are generally more considerate than they’re given credit for. People get involved with Space Shapers if they want to make a difference.’

Working specifically on developing parks, streets and squares, Space Shapers 9-14 delivers the opinions of young people to the clients, so they know which improvements local children most want to see.

The project provides a ‘tool kit’ for the children, which includes design, map-work, role-play, voting and writing, to record their opinions. By using a voting system in each group, the project makes it possible to collate opinions into specially developed software and express the information as a bar chart for the client. The client will receive a final report, which includes things such as poll results, as well as general comments the children have written down.

The client can then use the ideas produced at their discretion. ‘The votes produce practical ideas and help [the clients] become more rounded in their understanding of what the real issues are on the site,’ says Andrea Mercer, project manager at Beam. ‘Local authorities are realising they have to engage with how young people use spaces,’ she adds.

The new initiative is an offshoot of the initial Space Shapers project for adults, and Mercer says working with children differs. ‘Young people don’t look at a space in the same way an adult does,’ she says. ‘By actually going on site and identifying what they like and don’t like, and using the tool kit, they gain a better understanding. They’re actually more aware than grown-ups, but need to be engaged in a different way.’
The pilot projects have shown that young people bring a ‘vital, vibrant and informed voice’ to development, says Beam regional co-ordinator, Carmen O’Toole. ‘Often young people are on the fringe of the consultation process,’ she says. ‘The launch will translate into real improvement.’

The Eco Design Challenge, part of Designs of the Time Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, takes child involvement one step further than Space Shapers 9-14, and designs eco-friendly schools with the children. ‘We treat them like the client,’ says senior producer of the challenge, Matt Hocking.

‘Children don’t over-think or put limitations on things; it’s a much cleaner vision,’ Hocking adds. He says that children respond well to the projects, constantly offering up new ideas to improve their surroundings. ‘We use design to solve the problems – design doesn’t have any borders,’ he says.

Child-focused design initiatives

Space Shapers 9-14 – launched last week, the project aims to give young people a say about public design. Developed by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and Beam, with The Architecture Centre in Bristol and the Kent Architecture Centre

The Sorrell Foundation – set up in 1999 with the aim of helping young people to be more creative, and using good design to improve quality of life. Its Joined up Design for Schools campaign gives students the power to redesign their schools

Eco Design Challenge – a programme run by Designs of the Time Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the challenge gets Year Eight pupils across Cornwall to redesign the parts of their schools with the biggest carbon emissions

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.

Pre-budget report backs green homes for future

Recently the government published its annual pre-budget report which usually serves of a taste of things to come. Much has been said of its contents and what it exactly means for us all and whether it is a pre election political stunt, but what we must not do is ignore the content. There are some very good measures being put forward which aim to save households money and energy.

If the clunky old boiler in your house needs replacing or installing a wind turbine on the roof appeals, you may be able to claim hundreds of pounds from the Government to help you to realise your goal. A package of green incentives in this week’s Pre-Budget Report is aimed at helping households to cut energy bills and combat global warming. The Government hopes that 200,000 homeowners will be helped by a range of measures that is worth £200 million. However, if you want to benefit, you may have to act fast because the money available will be capped.

The Chancellor Alistair Darling announced plans for a new boiler scrappage scheme similar to the programme launched last year to encourage drivers to trade in their old cars. Households will be able to apply for a £400 incentive towards the cost of installing a new condensing boiler. Such boilers are usually A-rated — A is the most energy-efficient rating — and it is estimated that installing one will save a typical household £210 a year in energy bills.

Only households with the most inefficient G-rated boilers will qualify for the scrappage scheme, but competition for funds could still be fierce. About 4.5 million homes are believed to have a G-rated boiler but, with £50 million earmarked, only 125,000 will be able to upgrade their boilers at a reduced cost when the scrappage scheme is launched early next year. Details are still to be finalised by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

David Weatherall, from the Energy Saving Trust, says: “We expect the scheme to be considerably oversubscribed, so homeowners should apply at the earliest opportunity.” You can find out the efficiency rating of your boiler at www.sedbuk.com, which has a database of information on most boilers in the UK.

As well as helping householders to achieve valuable savings on their energy bills, switching to efficient boilers is also good for the environment. Replacing all G-rated boilers with A-rated models would save almost 4.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to the emissions from 830,000 households.

However, homeowners have been warned not to pay for a new system without checking out the potential savings first. Even if you qualify for the scheme, you will still have to shoulder most of the expense.

The total cost of changing your boiler can vary between £1,500 and £3,000. Radiators and pipes may need to be replaced, so it is recommended that householders get a range of quotes from local contractors.

Annie Shaw, of the consumer personal financial help website CashQuestions.com, says: “The boiler scrappage scheme looks attractive, but consumers should beware of hidden costs unless their old boiler is actually on the point of packing up. Modern condensing boilers can be more expensive to fit and maintain than older less fuel-efficient models. While you will find that your gas bills will go down with a modern boiler, don’t underestimate the potential cost of repairs and parts.”

The British Gas website has a calculator which provides information on how much you can save by upgrading your current boiler. Visit britishgas.co.uk for details. For more information on the boiler scrappage scheme, homeowners should contact the Energy Saving Trust.

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.

House prices fall for second month in a row

Property asking prices fell for the second month in a row during December as the market suffered its traditional seasonal slowdown, research showed today.

The 2.2pc drop left the average property put up for sale in England and Wales during the four weeks to December 5 nearly £5,000 cheaper at £221,463, according to property website Rightmove. But despite the fall, which came as the number of homes for sale hit its lowest level for 21 months, house prices are still 1.7pc higher than they were 12 months ago.

All areas of the country saw a fall in asking prices during the month, except East Anglia, where they rose by 0.5pc. The North saw the biggest price slide at 5.8pc, followed by the North West and South East, both at 4.3pc.

The group said it expected to see a further price drop during the coming month, as winter sellers generally ask for lower prices in a bid to secure a sale. It is then predicting a burst of activity and price rises in the early spring, before the housing market enters a “more challenging period” after the General Election.

Overall, it thinks asking prices will remain flat during 2010, after rising by around 2pc this year. But the group expects to see big geographical and socio-economic variations, with desirable areas where there continues to be a shortage of homes for sale seeing further price increases.

Miles Shipside, commercial director of Rightmove, said: “Sales volumes are still set to remain well down on historic norms, with the consequent thin-market danger of relatively small changes in economic fundamentals having a marked impact on asking prices.

“We have already seen how some local markets have been adversely affected by over-supply of property and a lack of mortgage-ready buyers, and more areas could become similarly blighted if forced sales increase later next year as expected.”

The group expects only around one million homes to change hands during 2010, half the level seen in 2007. But it warned that there could be more forced sales during the year, particularly if lenders showed less forbearance to borrowers who are in arrears after the election.

While the housing market is expected to have a subdued year during 2010, the rental one is expected to benefit from rising demand from people who are unable to buy their own home. At the same time, the supply of rental properties is expected to fall as accidental landlords, who rented out their home after being unable to sell it, put their property on the market again.

Mr Shipside said: “Existing landlords will find themselves in an increasingly privileged position in 2010, where competition from new landlords is frozen out by a dearth of buy-to-let mortgages. “In addition, tenant demand and landlords rental returns will grow due to demand from those who are unable to buy.”

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.

Chancellor fails to stimulate the construction sector

In the first few minutes of his speech, the Chancellor assured the nation that the housing market was “stabilising”. This may be why he did so little to ensure that the recovery will be sustained. Seemingly, he also thought it unnecessary to stimulate the beleaguered construction sector. Barratt, Galliford Try and other house builders expressed surprise at the absence of schemes to support the provision of more homes.

Alistair Darling also considers that he has done enough to save households from repossession, although more families have stayed in their homes thanks to low interest rates than through the Chancellor’s understanding of their plight.

Three groups, in particular, will feel some resentment over this lack of action: struggling first-time buyers, modestly well-off senior citizens and a few super-rich bankers.

Mr. Darling will be disappointed to learn that other bankers are putting past bonuses into their dream homes. Lindsay Cuthill, of Savills, the estate agent, in Fulham received £12 million worth of offers yesterday on houses in his southwest London patch.

Chancellors don’t like bankers much. But they are usually solicitous towards first-time buyers. Instead, Mr. Darling — who seems weirdly unconcerned about garnering the votes of twenty somethings — declined to extend the stamp duty holiday on properties up to £175,000.

He also did little of substance to encourage the banks to lend more to would-be owner-occupiers who, currently, cannot get finance unless they have a large deposit. There was also no pledge of help on to the housing ladder — available if twenty somethings swept Labour to election victory. Quite the reverse. In 2011 twenty somethings will be even less able to afford a home of their own, as they, like all workers, will be paying more tax thanks to the increase in national insurance.

In 2007 the Government promised to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £350,000; now it will remain at £325,000 until 2011. The limit for couples will be £650,000. Nicholas Leeming, of Zoopla, the property website, calculates that 102,525 more family homes will be dragged into the tax net as a result. This change of heart will have the most effect on middle-income households.

The Pre-Budget Report’s other anti- avoidance provisions were mostly targeted at bankers. Lucian Cook, Savills’ director of residential research, estimated that about £2 billion of bonus cash would be put into property, but he now expects less to be spent. David Adams, of Chesterton Humberts, the estate agent, said that if bankers moved offshore, their homes would be taken by wealthy foreigners, who pay no tax.

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.

Housing minister sets momentum for homes of the future

Housing Minister John Healey today confirmed that this country will be the first in the world to require zero carbon homes as a matter of law from 2016.

Draughty homes will be history as tough new green standards are set from 2016. Homes will have all round better insulated walls, windows, ceilings and floors to meet proposed new energy efficiency standards and avoid any loss of energy, saving up to £150 a year in bills.

Offices, shops, hotels and warehouses will also need to be built differently, so Mr Healey has today launched a consultation to gather evidence on how the zero carbon standards could be applied to non-domestic buildings from 2019.

He pledged an extra £3.2m to boost long-term research into how we design and build energy efficient homes. The research will use new technologies and materials to provide valuable evidence for future standards and how to drive down energy bills. He also announced that a new government consortium will use their combined green buying power of potentially over £10bn to boost green skills and technology, while also driving down costs.

Mr Healey said that the nation must step up the UK drive on climate change ahead of Copenhagen. He said that the new standards signalled “real momentum to change and radically re-think how we design our towns and homes for the future”.

One in three homes in 2050 will be built between now and then, so he made clear that the new standards are necessary in order for the country to meet low carbon targets. He said the standards also met a desire to change the way we live, lower our fuel bills and increase the market value of our homes with improved green credentials. He said that “we’re determined to see a cut in Britain’s carbon emissions but to do that we have to design and build to new green standards in the future.”

The announcements were made during a speech to the UK Green Building Council. He called on the building industry to use the public and market momentum to take action.

Housing and Planning Minister, John Healey, said:

“There’s a driving force behind the green homes movement from homeowners, developers and local authorities, to reduce energy bills and carbon emissions. We’re pushing at an open door, and there is a lot of momentum to change and radically re-think how we design our homes and buildings for the future.

Aspinalls Builders Ltd is a family run business and has gained an excellent reputation. We offer a wide range of building services covering areas such as brick work, plastering, painting, decorating, extensions, conversions, kitchens, bathrooms, heating and plumbing. Our quality of work is of such a high standard that we have an excellent and long lasting relationship with all of our clients; reliability and customer satisfaction are of utmost importance.