Over the winter we took part in the PeakSave session trials that were running to try to limit energy usage at peak times of the day during a possible energy crisis. By changing your habits during a specified hour, sometimes two, of the day you would receive a credit onto your electricity bill. I was interested to see the results and just how much electricity we could save but when the times were released, I realized I would be out of the house for the majority of them and the effect would be negligible. Determined to try however, before I left the house I made sure that every light was off and everything was switched off at the wall that could be; basically all that was left on was the fridge, freezer and Internet. Over the course of approximately 10 of these sessions, I received slightly over £30 credit to my bill which although not a huge amount on the face of it, made me think about how much less my energy bill could be if these sessions had been longer and perhaps I should be doing this anyway. I then discovered that by switching things off when not actually using them, my energy usage had decreased by an incredible 67% over these sessions which really has been a wake up call. We are continually told to switch off the lights and unplug electronics but equally fed the line that low energy ratings on equipment is cost-effective and leaving them on standby costs pennies a year to run. I know I have become far too complacent with ease of use and think back to how my grandparents would religiously switch everything off at night- including the internet! – and really must make more of an effort to put up with the one minute additional wait time when needing to use something. Perhaps other things from the old days are necessary as we have got too used to having an easy life relying on modern technologies. A return to a Sunday night bath with all the kids using the same bath water is perhaps a bit extreme but the teenagers really don’t need to be taking 20 minute long showers and I can suddenly see the benefits of winter and summer curtains. We’ve never been a house for having the heating on anyway and the kids have a well used supply of blankets but maybe a curtain on the front door to go with the draught excluders would be helpful and reminding the kids that if they put the oven on, they can come back sooner than one hour to make sure it has got to temperature! Wick is a bit different to many other towns in Scotland in that it has access to two localized heating systems albeit only for selected areas on the Pulteney side of the river. Centuries ago, the river divided the town’s of Wick and Pulteney and although Wick took over the name, Pulteney retained the facilities. Without a gas supply, the “town gas” came into being which was a massively cheaper form of heating than the electricity and oil that the north side had to rely on and then several years ago, Pulteneytown became able to tap into the new biomass system which really reduced heating costs for the households that could access it. There is talk of hydro schemes and solar schemes being developed and it would be great to see some of these located on the north side to allow this side of the river to benefit from reduced bills and also a greener form of energy to assist with the reliance on oil as there is no way of escaping the fact that in the highlands, it is a necessity. The Government has committed to moving away from fossil fuels and offer free or reduced energy efficiencies but these simply do not work across the whole country. Once again, what benefits the majority is used for all and those with the highest fuel costs due to their location do not see the benefit as these technologies won’t work. The other issue is of course that once government funding comes into play then companies hike up their prices; I know I was not the only person to price up an energy saving heat source knowing that there was funding available to significantly cover the cost of it only to find out when approaching the company charged with implementing it, that their cost was twice as high as anybody else’s meaning that there was no financial benefit to the householder whatsoever but a very large financial benefit to the installer. At the moment, it should not be home improvements that are on offer but real assistance to everybody. Westminster has the ability to force the hands of the fuel companies into lowering prices and if they won’t do that then the pressure must be put on the UK government to ensure that people in its country are not suffering through no fault of their own. Perhaps it is the case that the South of England is not suffering the same as the north of Scotland due to the differences in temperature so there is not really a fuel crisis down there and so nothing will be done and it falls on the Scottish government to help yet again? Or do we put it down to more neglect from Westminster and start investing in council run schemes such as the biomass scheme in Wick but using the technologies that local communities have developed? One thing that Scotland certainly does not have a shortage of is land and water – the impact of fields of solar panels and river turbines being able to provide clean, cheap energy to localised areas would be a wonderful start to a new empowering governance when independent and have the ability to make decisions that are right for this who live here. When fuel poverty is stated as spending more than 10% of your income on it and then struggling to maintain a certain standard of living, it will be no shock when the next lot of figures come out and the increased percentage of Scottish households now in that situation is revealed. It is going to be a huge concern and there is little that can be done when we are still part of this ineffectual union.