Eco-bling isn’t compulsory

Eco-bling is springing up in my neighbourhood. Recently I’ve spotted solar panels on homes in two areas of my town and even a wind turbine on a speed monitor on the highway. It’s exciting to know that, despite the economic gloom, some people are managing to invest in renewable energy.

I first heard the expression ‘eco-bling’ used at a conference held by the Energy Saving Trust. I was attending in my role as their Green Voice of the UK. If you haven’t come across the phrase before, eco-bling is stuff that’s big, shiny, in your face and designed just as much to impress the neighbours as help the planet. I don’t know why, but it’s one of those great phrases that just stick in your head. At the time, an image of Katie Price with huge gold-plated solar panels around her neck popped into my head.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of bling. I’m from Essex and we all love flashy jewellery and motors here. We’re famous for it, in fact – just watch The Only Way is Essex if you don’t believe me. If you can afford to put solar PV on your roof or install underfloor heating, and it’s saving you money on your energy bills – or even better, enabling you to sell energy back to the grid – then that’s brilliant. You are a green pioneer and I salute you. But one of the problems with going green is that many of us assume you have to have a windmill in your back garden, solar-plated hair curlers and a Toyota Prius to do so.

Many of us – at the risk of being sexist, especially guys – have a love of acquiring the latest gadgetry (mainly in order to show off). What I didn’t realise until recently is that some of the simplest and most old-fashioned energy saving techniques can be just as effective as the more modern ones. It might not be as sexy as building a giant windmill, but insulating your roof, installing cavity wall insulation and sticking a few draught excluders around the place are great ways to conserve energy. In fact, it’s sensible, not to mention a better use of money, to carry out these things first before splashing out on any expensive eco-bling. What’s more, some green campaigners argue that householders should have to show that they are doing these things first before they even consider installing renewable energy sources. And, unfortunately much of this eco-bling is still financially out of reach for many of us now anyway.

There’s no getting away from the fact that we need to replace outdated boilers and central heating systems in UK homes and generate more renewable energy. It’s a daunting task and one of the biggest challenges (and headaches) in the economic downturn is funding this. A little while ago I visited Grand Designs Live. While there, I attended a discussion panel chaired by Kevin McCloud and including Greg Barker, the Minister for Energy and Climate Change. Up for discussion was the green retrofit the government, together with the private sector, has planned for our housing stock. ¬†Under the ‘Pay as you Save‘ scheme, householders can effectively take on a small second mortgage to pay for eco-refurbishments to their homes. In addition to paying a small payment each month, the big idea is that the excess renewable energy householders generate will go towards paying back the loans they’ve taken out.

It’s an innovative idea which will need careful planning and there’s still a long way to go. With so many people already struggling with debts, the government is under pressure to ensure that householders aren’t overburdened under this new scheme.

But in the meantime, before reaching for the eco-bling, there are plenty of other things we can do to be gentler on the planet and save ourselves a few quid on our power bills, such as turning our thermostats down by one degree, insulating our homes effectively and using electricity monitors to track how we use energy. In these tought times, I think it makes sense to do these simple, low cost things first before splashing out on expensive gadgetry.

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