Duncan Bell, supervisor of the scheme which is run by the Leicester Environment City charity and funded in part by the European Commission, explained how it worked: 'Each household is given a meter card to fill in for both their gas and electricity. They read their meters each week and compare this with their target. It's like having a golf handicap. We want them to keep below their target figure.'
For the sake of simplicity it is assumed that households heat with gas; the targets are set according to prevailing weather conditions. A table is published each week in a local newspaper, showing usage from a comparable quarter last year and enabling householders to match it against the current week's target, which takes into account comparative temperatures.
After the scheme has been running for a year it will be possible to compare actual weekly usage one year to the next. In the meantime, British Gas and East Midlands Electricity are providing records of last year's quarterly usage to participants who have not kept their old utility bills.
For electricity, the weekly target is one-fiftieth of last year's total bill.
Clive Douthwaite was one of the first residents to register with the scheme. 'We thought it was a good idea to record what energy we use. You don't normally think about it until you see the bill. This is very simple to operate. We've already turned down the thermostat, and I've bought a draught excluder for the front door, which I'd never thought of before. We will try turning down the thermostat one degree each week to see if we find it comfortable a bit cooler. It will encourage us to think about our energy use a bit more, and adjust the settings more often.'
Mr Douthwaite's quarterly gas bill is pounds 100, which he is confident he can cut. He uses gas central heating and gas fires, and already has double glazing and loft insulation, which he installed last year.
The scheme organisers hope that when scheme participants like Mr Douthwaite become more aware of the energy they use, they will invest in other conservation measures.
Mr Bell said they wanted households to start on the simplest ways of saving energy: not leaving lights on in rooms not being used; cooking with lids on saucepans; making sure that heating thermostats are well- placed - things that are not too expensive.
The proposal originated from Perry Walker of the New Economics Foundation, who saw an 'ecofeedback' scheme operating successfully in the Netherlands. He explained: 'I met a few months ago the Dutch physicist (Jan Hanhart) who conceived the scheme. It started in 1979 with 18 households, him and his mates, and slowly spread. In 1983 it was taken up by two cities, who got their energy utilities to run it. Then it was taken up by the gas companies across the whole country. Now all households are given cards and 15 per cent of them save energy as a result. There is a saving of 1 1/2 to 2 per cent of gas consumption, which is impressive when all you're doing is providing information.'
Leicester's initial scheme covers only its Bede Island area but the intention is to extend it to cover the rest of the city and elsewhere. Mr Walker hopes there will be pilot schemes across the country by the end of the year, covering not only reductions in energy consumption but also household waste and transport use.
The methods can be used elsewhere through the newly founded Global Action Plan organisation, which is also building on the 'ecofeedback' schemes of Jan Hanhart. One of the founders, Chris Church, commented: 'We can provide a six-month programme of change, much the same way that someone would work through a Spanish evening class.
'We show how to implement and measure change, aiming to save pounds 500, two tons of carbon dioxide emissions, 100 gallons of petrol, 1,200 pounds of waste and 15,000 gallons of water in a year.'
Global Action Plan, PO Box 893, London E5 9RU.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content