Skip to main content

You are here

The financial follies and rewards of energy efficiency

couple paying energy bill online

Money matters when it comes to energy efficiency. This might not seem like the most groundbreaking insight - but the way in which money issues can inspire, and, indeed, turn off energy saving behaviours is an interesting thing indeed.

Take the results of a recent study from Duke University in the States. It found that when people’s electricity bills are paid automatically by direct debit, they tend to use more and thus have higher bills. The difference in consumption is not small fry - we’re talking four to six per cent more than those who see their bill, mull over its implications, then take the extra step of payment. More interesting still, those with more energy efficient homes used on average 9.4 per cent more electricity.

Dr Steven Sexton, who led the research, explains that this may be because these people assume they’re using less without checking to make sure that this is actually the case, and so tend to think less about their energy behaviour around the house. This is a classic example of what Dr Sexton calls the ‘rebound effect’.

It’s all about consciousness. The fact we tend to pay more when we’re paying less attention is a well-known trick exploited by companies with introductory offers and easy online payment facilities. But online facilities could help in this case, says Dr Sexton. He suggests that having to view a bill online, even if you just had to make one click to pay it, will help build a closer relationship between consumers and the electricity they use.

Making bill savings is the most common incentive for individuals and businesses looking to make home improvements. An even bigger financial incentive for the owners of commercial buildings is being tested in Seattle. The energy consumption of the Bullitt Center, self-described as the most energy efficient building on earth, is being measured against what it would have been had it been built to standard regulation, with the savings going to the city’s energy utility.

This arrangement is commonly seen in relation to renewable energy but one based on savings, not generation, is a new concept indeed. The three-year trial of the agreement’s 20-year term will provide a high-profile test for the model. If it’s successful, and carries on into two decades by the time it ends it could have influenced a significant hastening of energy efficiency measures in existing commercial property and push forward new build standards. Those in the international green building industry will be watching closely.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

Post a comment

Is there any help available for me? I am a single mother with one child,I am a council tenant,but I cannot afford to pay for gas and haven't had it to quite some time. Somebody told me that you might be able to help me. For me,it really is between heating and eating. Please if you can help,get in touch with me. My email address is: thank you ever so much. Yours sincerely,Marie Fuller.

Hi Marie,

We recommend speaking with your local energy service centre to see what help might be available. Call our friendly Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) advisors on 0300 123 1234 - they're available from Monday to Friday, between 9am to 8pm. (Calls cost no more than a national rate call.) Alternatively, you can e-mail

Wishing you all the best, Marie.

EST Team