Water, gas, power. Do you think you’re paying too much? Have a look at a German solution that really works

By Istvan Deak (Mişcarea de Rezistenţă)

The energy transition runs on rules that are very well defined, yet climate objectives may not be reached and change might not be sustainable unless every person on the planet does something to make a difference. For that matter, apart from properly informing people, it takes a will and desire from every citizen to change. Many question whether renewables would automatically push energy prices down. The answer is: not in the foreseeable future. But this question is not the right one to ask. The right question to ask ourselves is what do we as individuals do to fight global warming, which generates ever more violent weather phenomena.

When it comes to settling the anxieties of consumers in Romania, some solutions to cut maintenance costs are available. Germany’s Ministry of the Environment (UBA), stemming from a decision from the German Parliament, started Stromspar-Check (“energy-saving-check”), a project based on opportunities to save energy costs. In Berlin, the project was also joined by Caritas, a charity working in social matters. The UBA supports the initiative to supply free advice to retirees, single parents and people exposed to financial distress. The project started on 1 April 2016 and is due to end on 31 March 2019. There are 150 work centres across the country; so far 900 advisers have been trained and over 253,000 families have been advised.

Energy advisers

Caritas Verbund is bound to make a real difference in Berlin. It trains unemployed people, most of them immigrants or people who are unable to find a job, so that they can work as energy advisers under the project. Some of them are Romanians. Families in difficulty (even families of Romanians and other immigrants) who think they pay too much for power, water and gas sign up for the programme and wait for the adviser’s house call.

The adviser checks the bills and investigates the family’s habits. They take measurements and make note of all of the family’s devices and habits, such as TV watching, cooking, showering, room ventilation etc. At the end of the visit, the expert will enter the information into the database, evaluate it and generate a forecast of the amount of cash that the family can save in a year if the adviser’s instructions are followed strictly.

On the second visit, the adviser makes some recommendations and the first tangible steps. Some even change lightbulbs or house appliances for free, but the family members are supposed to change some of their habits too. “We are not advertising ourselves. Suppliers are selected by means of a competition. The best price-quality ratio will be selected. We change suppliers every year,” the expert explained.

The adviser will make the third visit after one year. The expert takes new measurements, checks the bills and provides more counselling. “The project has four components. The environmental component aims to significantly reduce CO2 emissions in every home. The social part of it involves a cost reduction for each family, a reduction of bills payable to energy suppliers and savings for national and subnational governments. On the other hand, our aim is to bring long-term unemployed jobseekers back to the labour market. Last but not least, we would also like to disseminate practical knowledge about energy efficiency and climate protection,” Caritas Verbund’s Stefan Becker, manager of the Stromspar-Check project, told us during a visit organised by adelphi.

Real cost-cutting

For each advised family or household, the project aims to reduce annual energy costs by €142 for the subnational government, €106 for the national government and €150 for each household. For each energy bill, the programme provides savings of €98 on power (389 kWh or 232 kg worth of CO2), €41 on water (11.4 m3) and €11 Euro on heating (216 kWh or 51 kg of CO2). Caritas covers seven districts in Berlin and has advised over 13,000 households, generating a reduction of 28,000 tons of CO2.

The UBA has recently introduced a financial support scheme to benefit distressed families. As part of this project, if they choose to follow up on the adviser’s instructions, they can also receive a €150 voucher which they can use to replace a house appliance, a refrigerator, a washing machine etc. “This sort of support is quite welcome. Yet they have to be aware that any modern device will cost more than €150, therefore any household must go that extra mile,” said one of the Romanian advisers who did over 100 hours of training and practical work before becoming a certified energy adviser. Eight hundred old appliances have been replaced in Berlin alone as part of this programme.

Practical advice for household consumers

LED bulbs are almost mandatory as first power-saving tips, as are televisions with a standby function, self-disconnecting wall outlets, adjustable pressure shower heads and thermostat-based A+++ refrigerators. “We do not advertise a certain brand. We select them based on competition, on their price-quality ratio. Contracts expire after one year and then we pick up a new supplier,” the expert said.

Preferably, all devices not used overnight should be plugged into just one surge protector that shuts off on its own: computer, TV, ADSL router, coffee machine, etc. They uselessly consume electricity overnight, even though in theory they are powered off. They may seem like low energy consumers, yet their contribution to the year-end power bill is considerable.

A 40W halogen bulb can easily be replaced by a 9W energy-saving (ESL) bulb to save energy, although the light quality, life cycle and ecological aspects have indeed been criticised. Moreover, experts say that there is no solid reason why windows should be left open for more than 10 minutes for ventilation purposes when heating or cooling systems are on in the house.

Children’s rooms should be properly ventilated in the morning right after they leave bed, whereas in winter, windows should not be left open for more than 5-10 minutes. If you open the windows or leave your home for a longer period of time, then all heaters should be turned off. Reducing room temperature by one degree will save you six per cent of power used for heating. Be energy-aware and save power. Using electric heaters is inefficient and way too expensive—use thermostat fans.

Favour the burners on the stove over the oven that needs four times more energy to run. Always place a lid on the pot when cooking. If you want to heat water or larger amounts of liquid, use the water kettle instead of the microwave. Use the microwave only for small amounts of food. If you leave your home for several days, unplug the refrigerator and leave the refrigerator door open to prevent moulding. Before putting food in the refrigerator, wait for the food to cool down to room temperature. Bear in mind that any additional ice layer will trigger additional power consumption. Never place your refrigerator or cooler near a heater, cooker or stove. If you place your refrigerator in a place that is one degree cooler, you can save three per cent of power consumption, or even six per cent in the case of a cooler.

Never leave the chargers of your phone, laptop, tablet, camera or toothbrush plugged into a power outlet. Unplug your TV. Check your TV after a couple of minutes; if it is still warm, it means power is slowly draining from the device. In some cases, energy is discharged from the TV within one hour. Unplug your computer monitor and audio devices. You do not need a bathtub; take showers, which are also better for your skin. Buy energy-efficient washing machines. You can save power and water as well as rest your hands.

The half-function of these energy-efficient washing machines cuts water and power consumption significantly, but not to 50% as one might imagine. When you are away from home for a longer period of time, unplug your boiler. When using your washing machine, skip the pre-wash cycle to save water and power.

Load your washing machine to the maximum level to make the most of it. WARNING: the higher the water temperature, the higher the power consumption. Modern clothes may be washed at 30oC or 40oC, there is no need to heat the water to 60o. Cooling the water temperature down from 60o to 40o will save you 50% on energy costs, whereas washing at 30o will reduce your energy consumption to 33%.

“It all depends on the number of people in the household, there is no doubt about that. There are households whose power bills didn’t go down after a whole year, but the power bill still increased. So we looked at the causes and found that another person had moved in. Of course then, water consumption went up. My recommendation is that whenever we take a shower, we should bear in mind that’s not just water going down the drain, but also our money,” concluded the Romanian adviser.

Original article in Romanian