How to save money on winter heating bills

Solar panels involve a substantial financial outlay but will earn and save you money and pay for the

Solar panels involve a substantial financial outlay but will earn and save you money and pay for themselves within a few years. Suffolk County Council is currently spearheading a bulk buying scheme offering competitively-priced panels. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Autumn’s gathering pace and it won’t be long before we’re thinking about firing up the central heating again, writes thrifty living columnist Sheena Grant.

It’s always a difficult call - go too early and you’re spending money you might well be glad of later in the year if this winter proves as bad as last, as well as burning fossil fuels and adding to global warming. And anyway, let’s be honest, it’s always a bit of a challenge to try to make it into October before turning up the dial.

By Christmas, regulator Ofgem’s energy price cap should have come into force, with the aim of stopping households on costly standard variable tariffs being ripped off quite as much as they have been. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security though. Those in the know say if you’re on one of these tariffs you can still save more by switching, regardless of the price cap.

But are there other ways we could all be saving money on energy costs? I’ve been thinking about getting solar panels and am I’m one of almost 3,000 people to have registered for Solar Together Suffolk, a bulk-buying project supported by Suffolk County Council and other local councils. The council says it follows successful smaller test schemes in Norfolk and London and larger scale schemes in Holland and Belgium. Typically, domestic users can expect their investment to be repaid within 10 years.

I’ve had my “personalised offer” for 12 panels, which would cost just under £4,000. The idea is that as part of a bulk-buying scheme you get a better deal than you would otherwise. My panels would save and earn me around £440 a year.

I’ve got until the middle of October to make a decision and if a survey shows my roof is not suitable, I won’t lose any money. You can still register a no-obligation interest in the scheme at

Anyone interested in finding out more about solar electricity - and a range of other money-saving eco initiatives - can go along to Chris Southall and Rosie Dodd’s eco-DIY house at 19 Burrs Road, Clacton, CO15 4LN for an open weekend today and tomorrow (September 15 and 16, 10am-4pm).

Chris and Rosie - who, as a matter of interest after last week’s column, are also long-term vegetable gleaners with Foodcycle, will share information about growing your own, keeping chickens and bees, rainwater systems, woodstoves and solar electricity and hot water systems. Find out more at

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