Posts with «& consumable fuels» label

Fitbit's Inspire 3 fitness tracker is 20 percent off right now

Fitbit makes some of the best fitness trackers around and a couple of our favorite models are currently on sale. The Inspire 3 has dropped to $80, which is $20 off the usual price. It's only $10 more than the record low price of $70, which we saw the fitness tracker fall to during last year's holiday season. This sale also marks the Inspire 3's best price of 2023 thus far.

The Fitbit Inspire 3 is our pick for the best budget fitness tracker. Along with a color touchscreen, it has connected GPS functionality, which means it can track the pace and distance of your running and cycling sessions even if you leave your phone behind. Other features include automatic workout detection, while Fitbit says you’ll get up to 10 days of use out of a single charge.

Those looking for a tracker with more bells and whistles may want to opt for the Fitbit Charge 5 instead. It’s our overall favorite fitness tracker. It has built-in GPS tracking, so it can map your runs and other activities. We found that this feature was fast and accurate.

In addition, the Charge 5 supports Fitbit Pay, giving you another excuse to keep your phone at home when you’re out jogging. You can also take an electrocardiogram reading with this tracker. Moreover, the Charge 5 can track your sleep and it has a full-color AMOLED display. The Charge 4 had a smaller grayscale screen and it a thicker profile, so the more recent model is more refined.

Best of all, the Fitbit Charge 5 is on sale too. It has dropped from $150 to $120.

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Reason's popular DAW finally gets native Apple Silicon support

Reason Studios (formerly Propellerhead) announced today that Reason, its popular digital audio workstation and plugin suite, now natively runs on Apple M1 / M2 chips. After installing the new Reason 12.6 update, users can skip the slower speeds from Apple’s Rosetta 2 emulator and run the DAW natively on non-Intel Macs for “50 percent better performance.”

The update also applies to Reason’s Rack Extension tech. The company says all 750+ extensions will also run natively on Apple Silicon, including older extensions abandoned by third-party developers.

Although the update is a bit late to the party, the (relatively small) Sweden-based studio likely had its hands full optimizing the music-creation suite for Apple Silicon, which Apple introduced in late 2020. Competitor Ableton Live didn’t launch M1 support until February 2022, and even Apple’s Logic Pro didn’t run natively on the company’s chipset until a year after the first M1 Macs’ arrival.

Reason 12.6 also includes a new offline mode, which should be welcome news for frequent fliers, off-grid adventurers or anyone with sketchy internet service. After logging in with an online connection to authenticate, the software will continue working offline without requiring extra third-party software.

The 12.6 update is free for owners of Reason 12 and subscribers of Reason+ (a $20 / mo. service that includes Reason, an up-to-date sound bank and the Reason rack). Finally, the company offers users running old versions an extra incentive to update by offering 40 percent off Reason 12 upgrades through May 8th when purchasing from the developer’s website.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Walmart announces major expansion to EV charging network

Walmart just announced a major expansion to its electric vehicle charging network, with "thousands" of Walmart and Sam's Club locations getting new EV charging stations. According to the company, full implementation will be completed by 2030.

The news does not say precisely how many of the approximately 5,300 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations throughout the country will be added to the network. We've reached out to the company for comment. Walmart currently operates 1,300 EV fast-charging stations located at more than 280 retail stores and affiliated facilities.

“With a store or club located within 10 miles of approximately 90% of Americans, we are uniquely positioned to deliver a convenient charging option that will help make EV ownership possible whether people live in rural, suburban or urban areas,” wrote Vishal Kapadia, Senior Vice President of Energy Transformation at Walmart. “Easy access to on-the-go charging is a game-changer for drivers who have been hesitant to purchase an EV.”

Walmart is still looking for energy suppliers, according to a report by Reuters. In the past, it has worked with providers EVgo and VW’s Electrify America. No matter the provider, Walmart has stated that each participating store will receive four chargers and that the company will keep energy prices low, though it has not provided cost estimates. 

Walmart wants to improve its overall environmental footprint in ways both large and small. In addition to this new EV charger initiative, the company stated that all supply chain vehicles will achieve "zero emissions" by 2040 and that it has already transitioned to some electric vehicles for deliveries. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

EU wind and solar energy production overtook gas last year

Energy generated from solar and wind power reportedly overtook natural gas in the European Union (EU) for the first time last year. The data comes from UK clean-energy think tank Ember (via Bloomberg), which projects the gap to grow.

Solar and wind energy rose to an all-time high of 22 percent of the EU’s 2022 electricity use. Meanwhile, Ember projects fossil-fuel generation to drop by 20 percent this year — with gas falling the fastest.

The shifts stem largely from reducing reliance on gas and coal after Russia invaded Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin ordered the cutoff of natural gas exports to the EU as retaliation for Western sanctions. Ember says the resulting high costs helped lower energy demand by around eight percent in Q4 2022 compared to the same quarter the previous year.

“There is now a focus on rapidly cutting gas demand — at the same time as phasing out coal,’’ the report said. “This means a massive scale-up in clean energy is on its way.” It expects nuclear power to remain flat in 2023, with a planned phase-out of German nuclear reactors canceling out a ramp-up from France. However, it projects hydropower to rise by around 40 terawatt-hours this year following a severe drought in 2022.

NASA's 38-year-old science satellite falls safely to Earth

NASA's 38-year-old dead satellite has returned to Earth without incident. The Defense Department has confirmed that the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite (ERBS) reentered the atmosphere off the Alaskan coast at 11:04PM Eastern on January 8th. There are no reports of damage or injuries, according to the Associated Press. That isn't surprising when NASA said there was a 1-in-9,400 chance of someone getting hurt, but it's notable when officials said there was a possibility of some parts surviving the plunge.

ERBS had a storied life. It travelled to aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984, and pioneering woman astronaut Sally Ride placed it in orbit using the robotic Canadarm. Crewmate Kathryn Sullivan performed the first spacewalk by an American woman during that mission. The satellite was only expected to collect ozone data for two years, but was only retired in 2005 — over two decades later. The vehicle helped scientists understand how Earth absorbs and radiates solar energy.

Update: @NASA’s retired Earth Radiation Budget Satellite reentered Earth’s atmosphere over the Bering Sea at 11:04 p.m. EST on Sunday, Jan. 8, the @DeptofDefense confirmed.

— NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) January 9, 2023

You might not see much ancient equipment fall to Earth in coming decades. The FCC recently proposed a five-year cap on the operation of domestically owned satellites that aren't in geostationary orbits. The current guidelines suggest deorbiting within 25 years. While there could be waivers for exceptional cases, future satellites like ERBS (which was in a non-Sun synchronous orbit) might bow out long before they're reduced to space junk.

The Wire retracts reporting on Meta citing 'certain discrepancies'

After nearly three weeks of escalating rhetoric, The Wire is retracting its reporting on Meta. On Sunday, the nonprofit publication said it had discovered “certain discrepancies” with the material that had informed its reporting on the social media giant since October 6th. “The Wire believes it is appropriate to retract the stories,” the outlet said, pointing to the fact it could not authenticate two emails that were critical to its previous coverage of Meta. One of the emails The Wire said it could not verify includes a message the outlet had attributed to Meta spokesperson Andy Stone.

“Our investigation, which is ongoing, does not as yet allow us to take a conclusive view about the authenticity and bona fides of the sources with whom a member of our reporting team says he has been in touch over an extended period of time,” The Wire said. “We are still reviewing the entire matter, including the possibility that it was deliberately sought to misinform or deceive The Wire.”

Before Sunday’s retraction, The Wire claimed Meta gave Amit Malviya, an information technology official with India’s ruling BJP party, the power to remove posts from Instagram, an assertation Meta has consistently disputed. Rather than backing down after the company shared a comprehensive rebuttal on October 12th, The Wire kept publishing stories that claimed Meta was misleading the public, culminating in an October 15th article that featured a screen recording the outlet claimed showed proof of the original takedown request that kicked off the entire saga. One day later, Meta said an internal investigation found the video showed a Workspace account created on October 13th, suggesting someone made the account to back up The Wire’s reporting.

Meta did not immediately respond to Engadget’s request for comment. Amid all the back and forth, Instagram eventually reinstated the post that prompted The Wire’s investigation in the first place.

The bizarre saga of Meta, The Wire and their fight over Indian content moderation

When a journalist at The Wire, an independent Indian publication, published a story on October 6th about a meme page’s claim that their Instagram post had been wrongfully removed, it hardly seemed like the kind of story that would draw much attention. The Instagram account, @cringearchivist, was a private account with fewer than 1,000 followers. The fact that their post, a satirical image depicting an Indian government official, was removed for breaking the app’s rules around sexual activity — despite showing nothing of the sort — was odd, but not the kind of thing that might draw international attention.

But in an increasingly bizarre turn of events, the nonprofit newsroom began publishing stories with more explosive claims about what it alleged led up to the removal of @cringearchivist’s post. And, in an even more unusual move, Meta not only refuted the claims but said the publication’s reporting was based on “fabricated” evidence and likely the result of some kind of elaborate hoax.

What happened?

After the initial story on the Instagram takedown, The Wire then started looking more closely at what happened. After not getting a response from Meta, reporters started asking around with sources inside the company. According to what one reporter for The WiretoldNewsLaundry, sources within Meta told them the post had been removed not by Instagram’s moderators but at the behest of Amit Malviya, an official in India’s ruling BJP party who oversees its IT cell.

The Wire then published a followup to its original story on October 10th, with the headline “Exclusive: If BJP’s Amit Malviya Reports Your Post, Instagram Will Take it Down – No Questions Asked.” The story alleged that Malviya had the power to remove Instagram posts thanks to Meta’s controversial cross-check program, which has been credited with shielding high-profile celebrities and politicians from the company’s rules.

It was an explosive allegation. While cross-check has received plenty of scrutiny, no previous reporting had indicated that those privileges might extend to the ability for those outside the company to influence content takedowns.

Where to even begin with this story?! X-check has nothing to do with the ability to report posts. The posts in question were surfaced for review by automated systems, not humans. And the underlying documentation appears to be fabricated.

— Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 11, 2022

Meta immediately refuted the story, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said that cross-check had “nothing to do with” the ability to report posts and that the original Instagram post was removed due to Instagram's automated tools. He also said that “the underlying documentation appears to be fabricated.”

Rather than backing down, though, The Wire published a new story the next day, this one featuring an email – supposedly sent by Stone — in which the comms official blasted staff for allowing the documents to “leak.” But the supposed email only raised more questions about The Wire’s reporting. Most glaringly, the grammar and syntax in the messages was… strange. It used phrases like “for the last one month” and “post which I will tweet about it.” Journalists who cover Meta and frequently interact with Stone pointed out that not only did it not sound like him, it didn’t sound as if it was written by a native English speaker.

I'm also late to this saga (in Israel & just catching up on the news).
My immediate thoughts on this fabricated @andymstone text:

-An experienced spokesperson/Crisis Comm professional would NEVER write such an email.
-It looks like a sloppy/failed Google Translate attempt. WTF?

— Nirit Weiss-Blatt, PhD (@DrTechlash) October 14, 2022

Stone also denied sending the email, and again said The Wire seemed to be relying on faked documents. Meta also published its own rebuttal on October 12th. The screenshots, according to the company, were fabricated. The @cringearchivist posts in question were removed by the company’s automated systems, not a human, much less an Indian government official. “We hope that The Wire is the victim of this hoax, not the perpetrator,” the company wrote.

Once again, The Wire responded that it wasn’t backing down. On October 15th, it published yet another story, titled “Meta Said Damaging Internal Email is ‘Fake’, URL 'Not in Use', Here's Evidence They're Wrong.” The lengthy post included several technical explanations about how the alleged emails from Stone were analyzed and verified. It also cited emails from independent security researchers who allegedly backed up their analysis. And, crucially, it included a screen recording from Meta’s Workplace software that allegedly showed proof of the takedown requests.

But, again, The Wire’s supposed evidence only raised new questions about its sources. On October 16th, Meta weighed in again. This time, the company said that an internal investigation revealed the alleged Workplace video was created from a Workplace account created with a free trial of the software on October 13th.

“At this time, we can confirm that the video shared by The Wire that purports to show an internal Instagram system (and which the Wire claims is evidence that their false allegations are true) in fact depicts an externally-created Meta Workplace account that was deliberately set up with Instagram’s name and brand insignia in order to deceive people,” the company wrote. “It is not an internal account. Based on the timing of this account’s creation on October 13, it appears to have been set up specifically in order to manufacture evidence to support the Wire’s inaccurate reporting.”

And, once again, The Wire said it was standing by its reporting. In a statement on October 17th, the publication essentially said it would no longer engage with Meta on the topic. The publication accused the company of attempting to “goad” them into revealing its sources. “We are not prepared to play this game any further,” it said.

By repeatedly making wild claims about #TheWire’s evidence, the #Meta hopes we will feel obliged to seek and publish further information that could be more easily traced back to our sources. We are not prepared to play this game any further. ~@thewire_in

— Mahtab महताब مہتاب (@MahtabNama) October 17, 2022

Meanwhile, the alleged proof provided by The Wire continued to fall apart. And one of the security researchers who The Wire said had backed up their verification said he had never sent the messages it cited in its reporting.

On October 18th, the publication reversed course, saying it would review its reporting, and would pull the stories from public view while it investigated. “This will include a review of all documents, source material and sources used for our stories on Meta,” The Wire wrote in a statement. “Based on our sources’ consent, we are also exploring the option of sharing original files with trusted and reputed domain experts as part of this process.”

Now what?

At this point, there are still more questions than answers about how and why The Wire’s reporting went so wrong. It’s clear there are serious issues with the “evidence'' it relied on, though it’s not clear whether it intentionally lied or if it was misled as part of some broader scheme. The publication has said numerous times it relied on two separate sources, which suggests the whole thing is more complex than one bad source.

More information is likely to come out in the coming days and weeks as The Wire and others now look more closely at how the story got so out of control. But there’s a reason why the stakes in this particular incident feel so high. India ranks 150 out of 180 in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders. And The Wire, a nonprofit publication, is one of a shrinking number of independent newsrooms in the country.

It’s also worth pointing out that some elements of this saga point to real and serious issues about Meta’s policies and how they impact its billions of users. For one, the entire situation began with something many people have experienced: a content moderation decision gone awry due to a mistake in the company’s automated systems. Amid all the back and forth, Instagram ended up reinstating the original Story post from @cringearchivist that had kicked off The Wire’s investigation.

There’s also the fact that Meta has been less than forthcoming about its cross-check rules for celebrities, politicians and other VIPs. Many details we now know about the program only came to light thanks to a company whistleblower and other investigative reporting into the company. The company’s own Oversight Board, which has been working on an advisory opinion for nearly a year about the program, even accused the company of misleading it about the program.

And while there continues to be no evidence that cross-check would enable a company outsider to initiate content takedowns, journalists and activists have long raised questions about whether Meta gives too much leeway to India’s BJP in other policy decisions.

Put all that together and it becomes clear why a publication like The Wire might be so invested in a story like this in the first place. “Our recent coverage of Meta began with an incident that reflected the lack of transparency at the social media giant and its various platforms,” The Wire wrote in its most recent statement. Unfortunately, its own reporting has so far only made things more opaque.

Apple Podcasts' new charts help you find the top paid shows

Apple Podcasts has offered paid subscriptions for a while, but how are you supposed to find shows worth a monthly outlay? You now have some help. Apple has introduced charts for both the top 100 subscriber shows and top 100 subscriber channels, making it clearer which shows and providers are interesting enough for people to spend their hard-earned money.

Both new charts are available through the Podcasts app in the US, UK, Australia and Canada. You'll need at least iOS 15.6, iPadOS 15.6 or macOS 12.5. They're available through both the Browse tab and the Charts page, and are refreshed multiple times per day.

There's a clear frontrunner in the inaugural charts. As of this writing, Amazon's Wondery is dominating the show and channel rankings with podcasts like Morbid and SmartLess. Recognizable rivals like Luminary (Black Star's No Fear of Time) and Pushkin (Malcolm Gladwell's Go and See) are also present on the channel list.

There's no mystery behind the strategy. Apple is clearly hoping you'll sign up for subscriptions and support your favorite series while giving the iPhone maker a cut of the fees. Nonetheless, this might be helpful if you're looking for ad-free shows and otherwise crave paid perks.

We’re heading for a messy, and expensive, breakup with natural gas

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated a number of fault lines already present within the global energy supply chain. This is especially true in Europe, where many countries were reliant on the superstate's natural resources, and are now hastily looking to cut ties before the supply is shut off. This has revealed the fragility of Europe’s energy market, and caused it to drive up demand and prices for consumers all over the globe.

In the UK, things are becoming increasingly dire and energy prices are skyrocketing. Bad planning on the infrastructure side and the cancellation of several major domestic energy efficiency programs are exacerbating the problem. It’s clear that real, useful action on the national level isn’t coming any time soon. So, I wondered, what would happen if I, personally, simply tried to break up with natural gas on my own? It’s relatively straightforward but, as it turns out, it comes at a cost that only one percenters will be able to bear. 

Dan Cooper: Energy consumer

I live in a four-bedroom, end-terraced house that’s around 150 years old and I’ve tried, as best as I can, to renovate it in an eco-friendly way. Since we bought it almost a decade ago, my wife and I have insulated most of the rooms, installed a new gas central heating system and hot water cylinder. We are, like nearly 20 million other households in the UK, reliant on natural gas to supply our home heating, hot water and cooking. And in the period between January 8th and April 7th, 2022, I was billed on the following usage:

Usage (kWh)

Cost Per Unit (GBP)

Cost (GBP)

Electricity (incl. standing charge)




Gas (incl. standing charge)




Total (incl. tax and other charges)


Essentially, I paid around $1,300 for my natural gas and electricity in the first quarter of 2022. That figure is likely to rise significantly, as the UK’s mandatory price cap on energy rose by more than 50 percent in April. A further price rise is scheduled for October, with the figure set at £2,800 per year, even though wholesale energy prices are no longer increasing. It’s likely that my energy bill for the first quarter of 2023 will be nearly twice what I’ve just paid. In 2020, the UK reported that 3.16 million households were unable to pay for their energy costs; that figure is likely to leap by 2023.

In the US, the EIA says that monthly utility bills rose to a national average of $122 in 2021, with Hawaii ($178 per month) and Utah ($82 per month) the most expensive and cheapest state to buy energy in. The average price per kWh is around 13.7 cents, which is less than half the comparable price in the UK as it currently stands. For natural gas, the average natural gas price for residential customers was $10.84 per thousand cubic feet in 2020.

The gas problem

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Much of Europe is reliant on natural gas, a significant proportion of which was supplied by Russia. Despite a rapid decline in domestic production, Europe sought to make natural gas the bedrock of its energy policy in the medium term. A 2013 policy paper written by Sami Andoura and Clémentine d’Oultremont outlined the reasons why officials were banking on it. “An economically attractive option for investors, a potential backup source for renewables and the cleanest fossil fuel, natural gas is expected to play an important role in the European transition towards a low-carbon economy by 2050.” This is despite the fact that “European energy resources are being depleted, and energy demand is growing.”

In 2007, then EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that the bloc is “dependent on imports for over one half of our energy use.” He added that energy security is a “European security issue,” and that the bloc was vulnerable to disruption. “In 10 years, from 1995 to 2005, natural gas consumption in the EU countries has increased from 369 billion to 510 billion m3 [of gas] year,” he said. He added that the EU’s own production capacity and reserves peaked in the year 2000.

The EU’s plan was to pivot toward Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), methane which has been filtered and cooled to a liquid for easier transportation. It enables energy supplies from further afield to be brought over to Europe to satisfy the continent’s need for natural gas. But the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has meant that this transition has now needed to be accelerated as leaders swear off Russian-sourced gas and oil. And while the plan is to push more investment into renewables, LNG imports are expected to fill much of the gap for now.

Except, and this is crucial, many of the policy decisions made during this period seem to be in the belief that nothing bad would, or could, disrupt supply. Here in the UK, wholesale gas prices have risen five times since the start of 2021 but there’s very little infrastructure available to mitigate price fluctuations. 

The Rough Field is a region in the North Sea situated 18 miles off the coast of Yorkshire, and was previously a source of natural gas for the UK. In 1985, however, it was converted into a natural gas storage facility with a capacity of 3.31 billion cubic meters. This one facility was able to fulfill the country’s energy needs for a little more than a week at a time and was considered a key asset to maintaining the UK’s energy security.

However, Centrica, the private company spun out of the former state-owned British Gas, opted to close the field in 2017. It cited safety fears and the high cost of repair as justification for the move, saying that alternative sources of gas – in the form of LNG – were available. At the time, one gas trader told Bloomberg that the closure would “boost winter prices” and “create seasonal swings in wholesale energy costs.” He added that the UK would now be “competing with Asia for winter gas cargoes,” raising prices and increasing reliance on these shipments. 

And, unsurprisingly, the ramifications of this decision were felt in the summer of 2017 when a pair of LNG tankers from Qatar changed course. The vessels were going to the UK, and when they shifted direction, Bloomberg reported that prices started to shift upward almost instantly. 

Analysis from TransitionZero, reported by The Guardian, says that the costs associated with natural gas are now so high that it’s no longer worth investing in as a “transition fuel.” It says that the cost to switch from coal to gas is around $235 per ton of CO2, compared to just $62 for renewables as well as the necessary battery storage.

Swearing off gas

MarianVejcik via Getty Images

In order to break up with gas in my own home, I’ll need to swap out my stovetop (not so hard) and my whole central heating system (pretty hard). The former I can likely achieve for a few hundred dollars, plus or minus the cost of installation. (Some units just plug in to a standard wall socket, so I may be able to do much of the work myself if I’m feeling up to the task.) Of course, getting a professional to unpick the gas pipeline that connects to my stovetop is going to be harder. 

Unfortunately, replacing a 35kW condensing gas boiler (I have the Worcester Bosch Greenstar 35CDi) is going to be a lot harder. The obvious choice is an Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP), or even a geothermal Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP), both of which are more environmentally-friendly. After all, both are more energy-efficient than a gas boiler, and both run on electricity which is theoretically cleaner.

More generally, the UK’s Energy Saving Trust, a Government-backed body with a mission to advocate for energy efficiency, says that the average Briton should expect to pay between £7,000 and £13,000 to install an ASHP. Much of that figure is dependent on how much of your home’s existing hardware you’ll need to replace. A GSHP is even more expensive, with the price starting at £14,000 and rising to closer to £20,000 depending on both your home’s existing plumbing and the need to dig a bore hole outside. 

In my case, heat pump specialists told me that, give or take whatever nasties were found during installation, I could expect to pay up to £27,000 ($33,493). This included a new ASHP, radiators, hot water and buffer cylinders, pumps, piping, controllers, parts and labor. Mercifully, the UK is launching a scheme to offer a £5,000 ($6,200) discount on any new heat pump installations. But that still means that I’m paying north of £20,000 (and ripping out a lot of existing materials with plenty of life left in them) to make the switch. 

In the US, there’s plenty of difference on a state level, but at the federal level, you can get a tax credit on the purchase of a qualifying GSHP. A system installed before January 1st, 2023, will earn a 26 percent credit, while a unit running before January 1st, 2024, will be eligible for a 22 percent credit. Purchasers of a qualifying ASHP, meanwhile, were entitled to a $300 tax credit until the end of 2021. 

The contractors also provided me with a calculation of my potential energy savings over the following seven years. It turns out that I’d actually be spending £76 more on fuel per month, and £532 over the whole period. On one hand, if I had the cash to spare, it’s a small price to pay to dramatically reduce my personal carbon emissions. On the other, I was hoping that the initial investment would help me reduce costs overall, but that's not the case while the cost of gas is (ostensibly) cheaper than electricity. (This will, of course, change as energy prices surge in 2023, however, but I can only look at the data as it presently stands.)

An aside: To be honest with you all, I was fully aware that the economic case for installing a heat pump was always going to be a shaky one. When speaking to industry figures last year, they said that the conversation around “payback” isn’t shared when installing standard gas boilers. It doesn’t help that, at present, levies on energy mean that natural gas is subsidized more than energy, disincentivizing people making the switch. The rise of electric cars, too, has meant that demand for power is going to increase sharply as more people switch, forcing greater investment in generation. What’s required just as urgent is a series of measures to promote energy efficiency to reduce overall demand for both gas and electricity. 

Energy efficiency

Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

The UK has had an on-again, off-again relationship with climate change mitigation measures, which has helped sow the seeds of this latest crisis. The country, with low winter temperatures, relies almost exclusively on natural gas to heat its homes, its largest energy-consuming sector. As I reported last year, around 85 percent of UK homes are heated by burning natural gas in domestic boilers. 

Work to reduce the UK’s extraordinary demand for natural gas was sabotaged by government in 2013. In 2009, under the previous Labour government, a series of levies on energy companies were introduced under the Community Energy Saving Programme. These levies were added to domestic energy bills, with the proceeds funding works to install wall or roof insulation, as well as energy-efficient heating systems and heating controllers for people on low incomes. The idea was to reduce demand for gas by making homes, and the systems that heated them, far more efficient since most of the UK’s housing stock was insufficiently insulated when built. 

But in 2013, then-Conservative-Prime Minister David Cameron was reportedly quoted as saying that he wanted to reduce the cost of domestic energy bills by getting “rid of all the green crap.” At the time, The Guardian reported that while the wording was not corroborated by government officials, the sentiment was. Essentially, that meant scrapping the levies, which at the time GreenBusinessWatch said was around eight percent of the total cost of domestic energy. Cameron’s administration also scrapped a plan to build zero-carbon homes, and effectively banned the construction of onshore windfarms which would have helped reduce the cost of domestic electricity generation. 

In 2021, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change examined the fallout from this decision, saying that Cameron’s decision kneecapped efforts to reduce demand for natural gas. As Carbon Brief highlighted at the start of 2022, in 2012, there were nearly 2.5 million energy efficiency improvements installed. By 2013, that figure had fallen to just 292,593. The drop off, the Committee on Climate Change believes, has caused insulation installations to fall to “only a third of the rate needed by 2021” to meet the national targets for curbing climate emissions. 

Carbon Brief’s report suggests that the financial savings missed by the elimination of these small levies – the “green crap,” – has cost UK households around £2.5 billion. In recent years, a pressure group – Insulate Britain – has undertaken protests at major traffic intersections to help highlight the need for a new retrofit program to be launched. The current government’s response to their pleas has been to call for tougher criminal penalties for protesters including a jail term of up to six months.

A chart, courtesy of Carbon Brief, showing the impact of the removal of the 'green crap' levies on domestic energy-efficiency installations in the UK.
Carbon Brief

Making my own power

Andia via Getty Images

Looking back through my energy bills over the last few years, my household’s annual electricity consumption is around 4,500kWh per year. A heat pump would likely add a further 6,000kWh to my energy bill, not to mention any additional cost for switching to all-electric cooking. It would be sensible to see if I could generate some, or all, of my own energy at home using solar panels to help reduce the potential bill costs. 

The Energy Saving Trust says that the average homeowner can expect to pay £6,500 for a 4.2kWp system on the roof of their home. Environmental factors such as the country you live in and orientation of your property mean you can’t be certain how much power you’ll get out of a specific solar panel, but we can make educated guesses. For instance, the UK’s Renewable Energy Hub says you can expect to get around 850kW per year out of a 1kW system. For a theoretical 5kWp system in my location, the Energy Saving Trust thinks I’ll be able to generate around 4,581kWh per year. 

Sadly, I live in an area where, even though my roof is brand new and strong enough to take panels, they aren’t allowed. This is because it is an area of “architectural or historic interest where the character and appearance [of the area] needs to be protected or improved.” Consequently, I needed to explore work to ground-mount solar panels in my back garden, which gets plenty of sunlight. 

While I expected grounded panel installations to be much cheaper, they apparently aren’t. Two contractors I spoke to said that while their average roof-based installation is between £5,000 and £7,000, a 6kWp system on the ground would cost closer to £20,000. It would be, in fact, cheaper to build a sturdy shed in the bit of back yard I had my eye on and install a solar system on top of there, compared to just getting the mounting set up on the ground. That’s likely to spool out the cost even further, and that’s before we get to the point of talking about battery storage. 

The bill

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For this rather nifty thought experiment, the cost for me to be able to walk away from natural gas entirely would be north of £30,000 ($37,000). Given that the average UK salary is roughly £38,000, it’s a sum that is beyond the reach of most people without taking out a hefty loan. This is, fundamentally, why the need for government action is so urgent, since it is certainly beyond the ability of most people to achieve this change on their own. 

In fact, it’s going to require significant movement from central government not just in the UK but elsewhere to really shake our love-hate relationship with natural gas. Unfortunately, given that it’s cheap, cleaner than coal and the energy lobby has plenty of muscle behind it, that’s not likely to happen soon. And so we’re stuck in a trap – it’s too expensive to do it ourselves (although that’ll certainly be an interesting experiment to undertake) and there’s no help coming, despite the energy crisis that’s unfurling around us.

Fitbit will fix frequent disconnections for Charge 5 owners

If your Fitbit Charge 5 has had flaky performance lately, you'll be glad to hear that a solution is on the horizon. 9to5Google has learned Fitbit is promising a fix for frequent disconnections between the activity tracker and its host phone. If you're affected, the Bluetooth connection will spontaneously drop and prevent your wearable from syncing fitness data, whether you're using an Android phone or iPhone.

Reports of the problem first surfaced in January. Common solutions like rebooting the Charge 5 have little effect. Fitbit also hasn't offered a stopgap solution or indicated the likely culprit.

There's no timeline for the expected patch, and it's not clear how many users have the issue. This certainly isn't what Fitbit would hope for, though. The Charge 5 sits next to the Luxe at the top of Fitbit's activity tracker lineup, and is competing as much with some lower-end smartwatches as it is fitness devices. The disconnections won't help the Charge fare well against rivals in a market that still has fierce competition from the likes of Amazfit and Garmin.