How to cut energy bills—and help the planet

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The homes we live in provide us with warmth, security and entertainment. And while we may be more connected than ever thanks to electronic devices, this comes at a cost.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has reported that: "Consumer electronics and computer equipment now represent 15 percent of global residential electricity consumption."

With the amount of energy consumed by electronic devices set to triple by 2030, according to the IEA, the need for clean, efficient homes is more important than ever before, both for the planet and our pocket's sake.

Here, CNBC.com takes a look at eight ways to make your homes greener, cleaner—and even cheaper—places to live.

By Anmar Frangoul, special to CNBC.com.

Solar panels

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Solar panels installed on the roof of a house may seem eccentric to some, but households fitted with the panels benefit from free, renewable energy.

According to the U.K.'s Energy Saving Trust, "a typical home solar PV (photovoltaic) system could save over a tonne of carbon dioxide per year – that's more than 30 tonnes over its lifetime."

Alongside these environmental plus points, there are financial ones too. For example, the Energy Saving Trust says that a London home with a 4 kilowatts peak (kWp) photovoltaic system could save £135 ($207) annually.


Electric cars

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According to the IEA, there are currently 400,000 "electric passenger cars" worldwide, and more than 150 million two-wheeled electric vehicles.

The environmental benefits of electric cars vary depending on a vehicle's source of electricity, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, "hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles can have significant emissions benefits over conventional vehicles."

Furthermore, the rapid development of solar-powered cars offers a tantalizing glimpse of the future, when cars could potentially be powered solely by the sun.


Biomass heaters

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While the initial cost of setting up a biomass boiler or heater can be expensive, people using a wood-fired biomass boiler could save as much as £780 ($1,198) a year compared to electric heating, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

A pellet stove costs roughly £4,300, however, and an "automatically fed pellet boiler" between £9,000 and £21,000.

The environmental benefits are big, though. The EST says that, when a wood-fueled boiler replaces a solid coal fired system or electric storage heating, homeowners can save anything up to 15.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Giving up beef

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For some, nothing beats a well-cooked steak. But a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the rearing of beef, when compared to pork, poultry, dairy and eggs, caused greater harm to the environment.

The study's authors noted that: "Beef production requires 28, 11, 5, and 6 times more land, irrigation water, GHG (greenhouse gas), and Nr (nitrogen), respectively, than the average of the other livestock categories."

Could changing our diets help the environment? Virgin billionaire Richard Branson seems to think so. He recently gave up beef, writing on Virgin's website that, "meat consumption today contributes to global warming and environmental degradation… Persuading people to give up meat altogether is very difficult, but persuading meat eaters to cut out beef is realistic."


Recycling cooking oil

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The vast amounts of oil used by the catering industry to cook our favorite meals could also help save the planet.

How? By being recycled and used as biodiesel, which, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is a fuel made from virgin vegetable oil and/or used vegetable oil. The EPA also states that biodiesel can be created from animal based fats such as fish oil and rendered fat.

As well as being both biodegradable and renewable, biodiesel has other benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center.

"Using biodiesel as a vehicle fuel increases energy security, improves air quality and the environment, and provides safety benefits," it said.

Energy-saving light bulbs

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From 2012 onwards, new light bulbs in the U.S. have used a quarter less energy than they used to.

The U.S. Department of Energy states that by using new, energy-efficient light bulbs—light emitting diodes, compact fluorescent lamps and halogen bulbs—instead of incandescent bulbs, homeowners can save roughly $50 annually.

Skylights

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Adding a skylight to your house provides an abundance of natural light—reducing the need for artificial lighting during the day—and adds ventilation.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "when properly selected and installed, an energy-efficient skylight can help minimize your heating, cooling, and lighting costs."


Mini wind turbines

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Like the biomass heater and the solar panel, installing a wind turbine is costly. According to the Energy Saving Trust, a 1 KW micro wind system can cost £3,000 ($4,556), with a 6 KW pole-mounted system priced at anything up to £30,000 ($45,542).

When it comes to the environment, though, the EST states that a 6 KW system can generate 10,000 kWh of electricity and save 5.2 tonnes of CO2 annually.


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