Households are being forced into ever-more ingenious ways to escape the unprecedented spike in energy bills, after post-pandemic supply issues and the war in Ukraine drove the wholesale price of gas to record highs.
Some rushed to retrofit their houses with green upgrades to wean themselves off gas: improving efficiency with insulation, forking out for heat pumps, and installing solar panels.
But some have gone even further and invested directly in wind turbines hundreds of miles from where they live in an attempt to drive down their energy bills. For those who bought into a recent trial scheme, the idea has already proven lucrative.
Ele Sherwen lives in west London and part-owns a wind turbine with around 900 other people. The turbine is located in Graig Fatha wind farm in South Wales. Its various owners live in Cambridge, Sunderland and Loughborough, to name a few.
Ms Sherwen paid £1,200 upfront for a share in the turbine as part of a collaboration with Ripple Energy, a clean energy company.
As part of the deal, shareholders are compensated each month based on how much their share of the wind turbine generates as direct discounts on their electricity bills.
The turbine has only been up and running since March, while shareholders like Ms Sherwen were brought on board as early as 2020. Members invested, on average, £2,200 in the project and have saved £162 on their electricity bills in the eight months the turbine has been active, Ripple said.
As the price of electricity rises, this amount is estimated to rise to more than £600 over 12 months. “I’ve been involved in community energy before and learned a lot about it – but those were location-based,” Ms Sherwen said.
She added: “For example, a village might get together and put up a wind turbine, whereas this is for all customers and it’s to offset a bill. It seemed cool to be part of the first project like that.”
After a particularly windy November, the investment has already shown signs of paying off – and Ms Sherwen’s electricity bill for last month was reduced to a mere £1.50, not accounting for standing charges.
“I used roughly my normal amount, and because I’m still on my fixed rate tariff from before the prices went up, that cost me £20.87,” she explained. “The price we sell at has risen a bit because of the current energy market. So, in the same period, I got sent £19.38 for my Ripple saving, leaving me with only £1.49 to pay.”
Matt Burton, 38, lives in York, and also invested in the Graig Fatha turbine in 2020, paying around 150pc of his annual usage. His Victorian terrace house uses a lot of gas, so when prices soared earlier this year his bills shot up from £800 to £4,000 a year on gas charges alone.
The father-of-two invested heavily in energy efficiency enhancements to his property using the Government’s Green Homes grant, including solar panels and double glazing.
His share in the turbine is expected to slash his electricity bill by £400 by the end of the year and he hopes his investment will pay for itself within 10 years.
He said: “I didn’t know at the time wholesale prices were going to go crazy. It was a big decision at the time to spend that amount of money but now we look back and think, ‘thank God’.”
Conscious of his eye-wateringly high gas bills, Mr Burton still hopes to move further away from gas, and is already looking into installing a ground source heat pump. He has also put more money towards investing in a wind farm in Scotland.
“We’ve all got to play our part,” he said. “I’ve got a four-year-old and a seven-year-old and I am behaving responsibly now because I am thinking about their future.
“I’d also like to control our costs better going forward. We hope utility costs will come down but they’ll never return to where they once were.”