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Exclusive: Q&A with Better Generation’s Toby Hammond

Toby HammondLondon-based Better Generation helps businesses or individuals reduce their energy bills, as well as their carbon emissions.

Co-founder Toby Hammond explains how:

Q. Some of the gadgets on your site look fantastic. What’s the one product you’ve come across that has really blown you away?

Energy meterI really like the electricity meters that show you how much your house is consuming in real time (in pence, or tonnes of CO2). It’s easy to forget about the impacts of wasting energy when its all out of sight, out of mind.

They help you learn which devices are using the most power, and can make you quite compulsive in turning stuff off! There’s some more info here.

Q. We see you’ve been involved with some great projects. What’s the most exciting one you’ve worked on so far?

We recently fitted a simple solar panel lighting system to a community play shed for kids on an estate in Kennington, South London, which is just around the corner from our offices. Solar electric panels are still pretty expensive things in large arrays, but if you just want lighting for a few hours a day, a small solar panel and battery is enough, especially when you use low energy light bulbs too.

This was a great project to get involved in because without mains electricity, there was a real need for it, and the kids were really excited about the kit.

We’ve also fitted out a houseboat on the Thames with a wind turbine, which was great fun too, and is enough to run their water pump, stereo and lights.

Q. What kind of person is your typical customer? Eco-geeks or people just wanting to cut energy bills?

We have a really wide range of customers, but most of them aren’t eco-geeks – they’re normal people who are keen to do their bit to help fight climate change, whilst reducing their energy bills at the same time.

Q. What’s the big obstacle stopping people from doing more? Is it a lack of awareness, uncertainty about what can really make an impact, the costs, sheer laziness, or something else?

Probably a mix of those things, but I do believe that these days most people are worried about climate change and would like to do their bit.

We just have to make it easier – at the moment it can get really technical and complicated, and if you’re interested in making your home green, its really hard to know where to start.

We’re setting out to bring people no-nonsense information about what works, and what doesn’t. There are loads of great green technologies out there, but its easy to end up with something unsuitable without some independent advice.

Q. What are the typical costs involved with self-generation, in broad terms? Let’s say a small, 5-person company wanted to generate more of its own energy, what kind of investment is it going to have to make? And what pay back period would they be looking at?

Unfortunately, there’s never a straight answer for this type of question – there are just too many variables! But to give you an idea, if your company office was in a windy location, they could get a small 1kW wind turbine system installed for around £5,000, or larger systems with bigger outputs for £10,000 upwards. Again its hard to make a stab at the paybacks here, but in a windy place you could be looking at around 10 years.

There are ways of starting more gradually- for example in our office, we’ve got low energy lights than run off a small solar panel on our roof – you can do something like this for only a couple of hundred quid. Of course, its really important to do all the energy-saving stuff before you start looking at micro generation.

Q. We’ve heard about some constraints in the supply of renewable energies from utility firms, especially for bigger businesses. Is that a reality in your experience?

Renewable-tariff electricity, such as supplied by Ecotricity and Good Energy, is generally aimed at the domestic market, and bigger businesses may struggle to source a contract from them. However, BizzEnergy, a company specialising in business energy contracts, does have a green energy product.

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