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How to use more solar and wind power in your daily life


Could a green energy forecast help you use more solar and wind power and less fossil fuel?

For all of you who have the pleasure of living with Britain’s infamous weather, you’ll know that wind and sunshine (the two main sources of our green electricity) can vary pretty wildly throughout the day. That means energy from wind turbines and solar panels varies from hour to hour too.

We’re so used to having electricity any time at the flick of a switch that it’s easy to forget where it comes from. But when it’s not coming from renewables it’s mainly coming from big power stations like coal, gas, biomass and nuclear – all of which have big environmental problems.

Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal fired power station near Nottingham, UK, responsible for massive greenhouse gas emissions. © Global Warming Images / WWF

Certain newspapers conclude therefore that renewables will never take off because: “What about when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing? Surely that leaves us hooked on fossil fuels?” Actually, it doesn’t. There are some great solutions to this problem that are coming on leaps and bounds.

How to make the grid and renewables work together

One option is to connect our electricity grid to other countries’ electricity grids. So when we’ve got less green energy online and another country has more than they need, they can send theirs to us through a big cable called an interconnector.

The Walney Offshore windfarm project, off Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, UK. © Global Warming Images / WWF

Another option is energy storage. When we’ve got more green energy than we need, we can store it in batteries. And when we need some more, we can get it back from those batteries. There are other technologies that store energy too, like pumped hydro.

But perhaps the best option is to simply make sure we use energy most when it’s windy and sunny and least when it’s not. WWF has teamed up with National Grid and Environmental Defense Fund Europe to try and make it easy for people to do exactly that.

Together we’ve developed a forecast that shows when energy will be green (and greenest) and dirty (and dirtiest) over the next two days. This means we can all play a part in reducing the use of fossil fuels by using the forecast to shift our energy use away from dirty times of day to clean times of day.

Green energy forecast for the next 24 hours

Can I really shift my energy use?

Not all energy use can be easily shifted. For example, we all have to make dinner and light our homes in the evening. But a lot of energy use can be shifted, such as dishwasher and washing machine cycles, and charging of phones, tablets and electric cars.

This is a win-win as it relieves pressure on the electricity grid, boosting our energy security, and also reduces the need for back-up fossil fuels, cutting our carbon emissions.

In fact, it could be a win-win-win and save households money as well. One of the most basic principles of economics is the law of supply and demand. Low supply and high demand increases prices while high supply and low demand reduces prices. But this relationship between supply of renewable energy and demand for energy doesn’t usually show up in our energy bills – yet.

You can use our green energy forecast to charge your phone with maximum wind or solar power. (CC BY 2.0 Gauthier DELECROIX – 郭天)

That’s all going to change in the coming years with the introduction of new energy tariffs called time of use tariffs. These will make energy more expensive at peak times and cheaper at off-peak times (a bit like peak and off-peak train tickets).

With these tariffs, you could save money off your energy bills by shifting your energy use around. Time of use tariffs won’t be for everyone though, so you should only go for one if you are confident your energy shifting habits will stick!

With the right energy tariffs, you could potentially save money by shifting your energy use to greener times of day. (CC BY 2.0 BagoGames)

Next week I’ll do another blog about our green energy forecast looking in detail at electric cars. We’ll also be doing a lot more work over the coming months to make it even easier and more automatic to use the forecast. For now, have a play around with the forecast and see if there are any changes you could make to power your daily life with wind and sun. Let me know in the comments below or email jbeard@wwf.org.uk

Don’t forget!

The best way to cut your energy bills though (as well as carbon emissions) is home energy efficiency measures, which could save the average household £400 per year. We’re currently urging the UK Government to introduce energy saving measures for all households – help us out by sending an email to the Government to tell them to put greener homes and cheaper bills at the heart of the Clean Growth Plan.

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