Facing the 'cake and eat it' conundrum can be a chore

By Michael Morrison

The pivotal annual break-up points of New Year and Valentine’s Day may be a distant memory, but most of us are still finding ourselves on the rebound in a big way.

We’ve all done it. You’re having a good time, not a care in the world when, without realising it, you’ve have rebounded right back to where you were before all your hard work. Following? I’m not talking about your relationship status, but instead a real-life growing concern in the green-minded community.

Regular readers may twig that we’ve talked about the rebound effect a lot on this blog of late – from the theories of William Stanley Jevons  to my Scottish colleague Zoe’s slightly worrying analysis that it could be the start of our ethical downfall – but forgive me for joining the debate. It’s a very ‘now’ debate after all; one that can move quickly from very personal concerns to big, sweeping problems if we’re not careful. 

How it works is this: you decide to save energy and money by getting loft insulation fitted, or perhaps installing a couple of solar panels on the roof. Great! But then, gradually, without really realising it, you start to think ‘Well, my loft’s fully insulated, so I guess I could turn the thermostat up just a little’. Or ‘I use a hippo in my toilet so I’m just going to enjoy a few more minutes in the shower now and again’.

Before you know it though, your life may be that little bit more comfortable but your energy use and expenditure has gone right back to where it was before you did anything. Maybe the dating analogy is going further than I thought…

Basically you can’t have your cake and eat it. 

In January British Gas announced that it had cut 5% off electricity bills of 5 million customers, a move which competitors EDF and SSE also announced. After the mammoth hike-up of domestic energy bills across all major suppliers in late-2011, the move will offer little respite to most homes. But with the average home set to save around £20 – 30 a year as a result, it’s worth looking at just what energy-saving measures you can spend that money on. Before you rebound it on Saturday night’s taxi home… 

This blog is no stranger to investigating energy-saving gadgets, but even I was surprised by how many small, cheap products there are out there that not only help you save energy but also pay for themselves many times over in doing so. For example, I read about the H2O-100 Power Water Pressure Powered Shower Radio. A radio which plumbs directly into your shower and is powered by the mains water supply. Oh, and it’s totally waterproof. Simple but hugely effective. Okay so it won’t save you that much energy, but it only takes a few small measures for you to see the benefit on your power bills. And it also proves that not rebounding can be as enteratining as caving into temptation.

Using a similar approach is a very savvy installation indeed. Some boilers are being shipped pre-fitted with a tiny turbine in the mains gas inlet pipe. This spins and produces electricity for free, which in turn generates all the electricity your boiler needs to operate. Of course micro-generators like these are a long way off producing enough power to dramatically cut our fuel bills but, in the meantime, you could a lot worse than spending your £25 fuel savings on an energy monitor

These little beauties wirelessly attach to either your mains electricity supply or gas inlet pipe and give you accurate and live figures on how much fuel you are using, how much it costs and estimated greenhouse gas emissions. And you can fit them yourselves in a matter of minutes. And these are only £25? Yes. Kind of makes you wonder why energy suppliers have been faffing about with 9-digit numbers and estimates all these years.  

The real benefit of an energy monitor is being able to see exactly how your fuel consumption is affected by separate actions or appliances. If you can physically see the numbers and cost rising every time you turn on that electric blanket you’ll quickly think twice about using it in future.

So maybe the realisation you’re rebounding can have you wind up forging a beautiful new relationship with your energy consumption. Seeing what you’re using is of course just the start. To fight the power that the temptation towards rebounding exerts, we’ve got to not only cosy up to our monitors, but act on what they’re telling us. Some might say it is just like a human relationship.