Amid all the furore over the environmental benefits or otherwise of Viking Energy’s windfarm, a lower key and significantly less contentious project is ambitiously seeking to reduce Shetland’s carbon emissions by 28,000 tonnes over the next two years – the equivalent of taking 10,555 cars off the road.
Harriet Bolt was appointed by the Amenity Trust as carbon reduction officer back in May as part of the £92,000 project, funded through the Scottish Government, and she has already rolled out three initiatives towards meeting the target.
The latest scheme is making energy-saving household monitors available on a three-month lease free of charge, while bins for recycling plastic bags are being installed in shops around the isles and low energy light bulbs supplied by the trust and E.ON are also freely available to households and individuals as long as they are willing to make a “carbon pledge”.
The electricity monitors are “very easy to install and use” and a recent trial conducted by the trust showed an average saving of some £16 a month. The clever devices simply clip onto your electricity cable and transmit data to a small, portable device which offers a breakdown by hour, day and week of the amount of energy you are using at any point in time.
You can also input your per kilo watt electricity tariff to get an estimate of how much your usage is costing and the monitor collates historical data, allowing you to see what improvements have been made.
The chief aim is simply to raise awareness and shock people when they discover the direct expense of leaving the odd light bulb on needlessly, and to encourage people to take small steps like cooking food in the microwave instead of the oven, or using a small hob instead of a big one. Ms Bolt says it is a win-win situation because, whether people have a strong environmental conscience or not, everyone is interested in saving money.
Rory Tallack and Helen Bradley borrowed one of the monitors around a month ago. Although generally considering themselves to be quite energy-conscious – only filling the kettle with the exact amount of water they need and making sure all old-style light bulbs have been replaced, for instance – the Unst-based couple said the monitor made a noticeable difference to their consumption.
Mr Tallack said he had been surprised to discover that some products which we are constantly reminded not to leave on standby, like flat screen televisions, hardly use any energy at all while other household appliances are swallowing up the pennies at an alarming rate.
“It’s quite interesting and surprising to see how much things use – kettles and showers are shocking,” he said. “Our towel rail, which I thought would gobble energy, doesn’t have any impact at all. The biggest surprise was probably the shower, which uses £1.05 an hour – crazy. Even if it just shocks you into using certain appliances less; you’re only talking pence per hour but it all adds up.”
The amenity trust also has gadgets which can be plugged into individual appliances to monitor their energy use, and it is part of an attempt to get householders in the isles a step ahead of the rest of the country.
Electricity and gas meters are to be installed in every home in the UK by 2020 in order to cut energy use and the government is expecting consumers to pay for the £11 billion cost of rolling them out across the UK’s 25.7 million households – a move estimated to save homes an average of only £1.43 each per year.
The department for energy and climate change’s consultation on the installation of “smart meters” closed on Monday, but it has left consumer watchdogs, including Which?, angry, particularly as the meters will not include the kind of portable monitoring device being leased out by the trust here.
They say that will make any savings to the consumer minimal, amounting to only £36.75 million a year while energy firms – who will no longer have to send employees out to households to read meters thanks to computerisation – stand to gain around £306 million a year. Which? is calling on the government to ensure that the wireless monitors are included so that people “understand how much energy they are using at different times and for what”.
Another area of household activity the trust is trying to make inroads into is cutting down the excessive use of plastic bags – Shetlanders use an estimated 5.5 million every year and each bag takes 1,000 years to decompose, usually ending up in landfill. Companies and organisations who are interested can contact the trust about getting one of their plastic bag recycling bins.
Ms Bolt said the general response so far had been “really encouraging” as they seek to work with individuals, businesses, community groups and any other organisations interested in setting up tailored carbon reduction plans.
“I think we’re lucky in that saving carbon and energy is the same as saving money and people are always going to be interested in saving money,” she said. “I can go and visit businesses, offer them really simple, low cost things they can do like recycling paper, using energy-saving light bulbs etc. The Energy Saving Trust can come and do more detailed work, looking at more expensive ways they can cut down.”
Amenity trust environment project officer Mick Clifton said that as well as offering the plans to businesses and schools, they were hoping to be able to set up arrangements with the SIC, Shetland Health Board and other big employers “to try and encourage them to do a bit more” towards reducing their carbon footprint. He said: “They’re already doing a fair bit but as lead organisations in Shetland they’ve got a big role to play.”
Ms Bolt is also working with the council on producing travel plans to try and reduce the number of people who are driving into work in Lerwick in separate cars every day – a number which remains colossal, as anyone driving out of town at 9am can testify.
*Anyone who wants to borrow one of the amenity trust’s energy monitors, pick up light bulbs free of charge or get involved in the scheme more generally can contact Harriet Bolt on (01595) 694688 or email email@example.com. You can also find out more information at www.carbonreductionshetland.org/index.html.