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Sundaytimes

A car to turn neighbours green with envy

Embracing a more eco-friendly lifestyle can help preserve the environment and your bank balance, writes Mark Channing

Consumers can do their bit for the environment and save money through their lifestyle choices and by taking advantage of government backed, eco-friendly initiatives.

The government gives grants to householders to improve their homes energy efficiency. Some 77% of homeowners do not know about the grants or are only vaguely aware of them, according to a 2015 survey for energy provider Energia.

On the roads, drivers can make huge savings by switching from petrol and diesel to electric cars. The ESB has been running a year long national electric vehicle trial, which ended last week.

The 32 drivers involved in the trial covered more than 200,000km during the year in BMWs, Citroens, Mitsubishis and Nissans, saving more than €18,000 in total in fuel costs.

Those opting for electric cars would have to be prepared to recharge for at least 30 minutes after travelling 150-200 km, which might make electric vehicles impractical for longer journeys.

There are also opportunities to profit by investing in renewable energy, though performance has sometimes been disappointing.

From your home to your car we tell you how to profit from the greenrevolution.

GREEN HOMES

The Better Energy Homes scheme, run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), gives householders cash payments to improve their homes’ energy efficiency while also reducing their heating bills. Jeff Colley, editor of Passive House Plus magazine, said: “The best measures to take will depend on what kind of home you live in. Dont assume that just because theres a grant available that its the right measure for your house."

Insulation generally offers the quickest payback. “The fabric of the house should be your priority,” said Colley. "Apart from the comfort it brings, you’re locking in energy saving benefits for 60 years or more compared with installing a new heating system,which only has a 15-to 20 year lifespan”.

To get the most from your money, try to combine several projects in a single retro fit.

“If you’re insulating your house, its the perfect time to also replace the widows," Colley said. “You’re probably only going to do this once, and the benefit in reduced energy bills tends to happen when you go in deep in terms of the upgrade.”

Internal wallinsulation ona detached house qualifies for a cash grant of up to €2,400. A grant of €4,500 is available for external wall insulation. You can get a grant of up to €300 to insulate your attic, which could save up to 20% on your home heating bill, according to the SEAI.

GREEN ENERGY

Green energy can be cheap energy. Panda Power has just entered the household energy market with the lowest electricity tariff. The company says it gets all of its power from renewable sources. Simon Moynihan of Bonkers.ie, a price comparison site, said”: Part of Panda’s unique selling point is that its claiming to be a 100% green energy provider.”

To get the best energy deals you have to pay by direct debit and opt for online billing, seen as more environmentally friendly than paperbills.

A household on Electric Irelands standard rate tariff using the national average electricity consumption would save €160 a year by switching to Panda, according to bonkers.ie.

Other utility providers also reward customers who opt for paperless billing. UPC customers who receive paper bills pay more a year than those who sign up for online account services with the TV and broadband supplier.

You can also save money by only buying “A” rated appliances. They use 55% less electricity than similarsized appliances with a “D" rating,according to the SEAI.

GREEN INVESTMENTS

More than one in three investors believe that renewable energy was the best peforming asset class over the past five years, even though many of these investments performed badly.

Michael Bradley, chief executive of Solar 21, a renew able energy investment company that undertook the survey, said: “The past five years have seen an increase in popularity for these funds among investors. We predict the movement toward renewable and ethical investment will gather momentum."

Solar 21, which invests in European solar energy projects, forecasts returns of 7.5% a year, although Bradley warned that diversification is everything when it comes to investing.

Not everybody is convinced by the merits of green investing.

Joe Mottley of Clarus Investment Solutions in Dublin, said: “The average punter assumes renewable energy must be a great investment because its going to grow fast and oil is going to run out.

“I’m very sceptical that investing in these sectors leads to better performance than you might get from investing in equities generally.” iShares Global Clean Energy, a bench mark exchange traded fund (ETF) for green investors, lost 2.2% a year on average over the past five years. This compares with annual growth of 5.5% for the stock market as a whole, as measured by the iShares MSCI World ETF.

Irish investors can also buy into unit-linked funds offered by life companies that invest in the green sector.

One such fund is Zurich Life’s Green Resources Fund which invests in the alternative energy and water sectors.

Over five years, the fund lost 0.1% a year on average, but it has risen by 12.4% a year on average over the past three years.

GREEN DRIVING

Improvements in battery technology have made electric cars a viable alternative to petrol or diesel cars. At the same time, government grants and dealer scrappage schemes have reduced the buy-in costs for consumers.

Gareth Dawis, head of ESB ecars, said: “The growth in people buying electric cars has been phenomenal. They have taken off across the UK and Europe. Electric car sales in Ireland are double what they were last year.”

Government incentives include a purchase grant of €5,000, although it is factored in to the selling prices of electric cars. Dealers will take your petrol or diesel car as a trade in, with Nissan offering a €4,000 trade in on its Leaf electric car until the end of July.

The cost of driving an electric car is 1-2c per km compared with 10-12c per km for a conventional car, according to the ESB. That saving is worth €2,000 a year to someone driving 20,000 kms a year.

Electric cars cost less to service because they have fewer moving parts than con ventional cars. They are also cheaperto tax and insure.

Since 2008, motor tax has been based on a car’s carbon emissions rather than engine size. Electric cars fall into the lowest band for emissions so only cost €120 a year to tax.

Insurer Zurich Ireland gives electric car drivers a 20% discount on their insurance premiums.

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