Europeans explore ways to cut home energy use amid soaring electricity bills

Despite efforts to save energy, the continent’s leaders say more needs to be done to reduce natural gas consumption

Solar energy panels and wind turbines in Burton Latimer, England, as Europeans try to cut energy use. Reuters
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Soaring heating and electricity bills are pushing Europeans to find ways to cut their energy use and reduce costs.

Mats Johansson installed 30 solar panels with a production capacity of 13.5 kilowatts on his house in Halmstad, south-west Sweden this year. The nation has some of the highest rates of energy consumption per capita in Europe — largely thanks to cold winters with few daylight hours — which means that measures to cut back pay off all the more.

The savings equate to “loads of money for me”, Mr Johansson said. His solar panels have produced more energy than his family uses and have saved them about 22,000 kronor ($2,098) so far this year.

Mr Johansson’s efforts are being mirrored in homes across Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked the worst energy crisis in decades. Soaring living costs are forcing households to cut down on spending, and authorities are actively encouraging consumers to curb energy use.

Two thirds of Swedish households reported making home improvements in the past six months, which includes switching to more efficient lighting as well as sealing windows and doors.

Seventy per cent of Germans say they have spent money on energy-saving products this year, and in the UK about a quarter said they were considering making efficiency-related changes in their homes, according to a survey in May.

Despite such efforts to save energy, the continent’s leaders say more needs to be done to reduce the consumption of natural gas, with storage facilities recording a rapid decline in recent weeks as the region’s first real cold snap hit. The problem is expected to intensify in future winter seasons when the region will not be able to count on Russian supplies.

“The fact that so many have gathered knowledge, changed their energy consumption and are also planning to implement future measures is positive given the circumstances,” said Robert Andren, director general of Sweden’s Energy Agency. Changes being made now can make a difference “many years into the future”.

Britain last month launched a £1 billion ($1.2 billion) scheme to improve insulation of the nation’s least energy-efficient homes.

In Germany, a similar programme that existed before the crisis was adapted this year to encourage renovations of older buildings, making it available to more people.

The focus on energy optimisation has also raised interest in so-called “passive houses” — ultra-low-energy buildings first conceptualised in the aftermath of the 1970s oil crisis. They combine various building, insulation and ventilation techniques to trap and reuse body heat, eliminating the need for conventional heating systems.

Sweden’s Fiskarhedenvillan, a company that builds various types of houses, says it has seen increased demand for its passive models since the start of the energy crisis.

Norrsken, a UK company that also manufactures such homes as well as energy-efficient windows, says there has been a “definite increase” in the number of people inquiring about upgrading their windows and doors. While 66 per cent of their work in the past 12 months has consisted of new-builds, in the past two months, home improvements have made up more than half their orders.

Updated: December 24, 2022, 5:00 AM