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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 11:55 GMT
Q&A: The costs of going green?
The government's Energy White Paper proposes a fundamental shift from nuclear power to clean renewable energy and harnessing wind and water. BBC News Online explains how we all can do our bit to clean up the UK.

I am a homeowner who does little at present to conserve energy. Will my inaction cost the earth?

Nearly 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions from UK power stations result directly from supplying homes like yours with electricity.

We use twice as much lights, kettles, computers and DIY equipment now than we did during the 1970s, and by 2010 we are expected to be using yet more - 12% more, in fact.

Much of the energy is also used to heat our homes, and this is where we could make the largest savings.

More than 40% of all heat lost in an average home is through the loft and walls.

Saving the planet aside, how much money can I save?

The good news is that being environmentally friendly can be cost efficient.

The Energy Saving Trust - set up by the government after the 1992 Rio earth summit - says 5bn is wasted on energy in the UK every year.

Households could save on average 200 a year in utility bills just by taking a few energy saving measures.

Such as?

Insulating cavity walls can reap big dividends.

Reducing heat loss through the wall by up to 60% can save on average between 70 and 100 on fuel bills.

In addition, the Energy Trust recommends that people fit a jacket to their hot water tank. It can save 15 a year.

Fitting energy efficient lighting - as opposed to the traditional 60 or 100 watt light bulb - can also have a major impact.

If every UK household installed three compact fluorescent light bulbs, enough energy would be saved in a year to supply all street lighting. Even replacing an old boiler can save more than a fifth of the average household fuel bill.

And replacing draughty old sash windows with properly insulated windows drives down heating bills as well.

I know it seems a bit of a joke, what with the famous British weather, but can I harness the power of the sun to supply energy for my home?

Last year, the government announced it would make 20m available to households looking to install solar energy equipment.

Homeowners that qualify can enjoy grants of up to 65% of the cost of installing solar energy. More details are available by phoning 0800 298 3978.

But some may blanch at even 35% of the cost - which can equate to several thousand pounds - of installing solar panels.

The very grand objective of the grant scheme is to see the numbers of homes run on solar energy increase tenfold by 2005. The government hopes to dispel for once and for all "the myth that solar energy is a non-starter in the UK's climate".

But even a tenfold increase is small beer compared to the number of homes that will continue to be run on traditional energy.

Under the Renewables Obligation, introduced last April, energy suppliers must source only 3 % of their electricity from renewables this year, and just 10 % by 2010.

What if I wanted to go the whole hog and build a wind turbine in the back garden of my semi detached?

Even if it is part of your bid to save the planet - I am afraid you can't get around planning regulation, and unless you live in the countryside you will have difficulties getting approval.

However, some businesses - keen to show their green credentials - have been allowed to set up small wind turbines.

A more promising approach may be combined heat and power systems, currently piloted in Manchester.

In the trial, the energy of a central heating gas system is being used to generate electricity as well, enough to power a house - and if the electricity is not needed, it will be fed back into the National Grid.

However, so far such systems are fairly large scale - heating blocks of flats - and are not yet available for individual homes.

What government help is available in my bid to become energy efficient?

Apart from the solar panel grants, money is available through the Energy Saving Trust, local authorities and even energy suppliers.

As a rule of thumb, the largest grants are generally available only to those over 60 or to low income households.

However, many households, regardless of income, can apply for discounted energy efficient light bulbs, and there are cash-back schemes available for anyone installing new heating systems.

The Energy Saving Trust website has full information on grants and offers available.



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